Lot 144
  • 144


400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Cup
  • signed and dated 1958 on the reverse
  • solvent transfer, gouache, watercolor and graphite on paper
  • 22 3/4 by 28 3/4 in. 57.8 by 73 cm.


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# RR D-116)
Collection of Emily and Burton Tremaine, New York (acquired from the above in 1960)
Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art from the Tremaine Collection, 9 November 1988, Lot 3
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


New York, The Jewish Museum, Robert Rauschenberg, March - May 1963, cat. no. 51
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters—The Spirit of Modernism, February - May 1984, p. 161, illustrated in color
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Robert Rauschenberg Drawings: 1958-1968, October - December 1986, cat. no. 5, illustrated in color
Ferrara Palazzo del Diamanti, Rauschenberg, February - June 2004, cat. no. 19, p. 122, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition overall. There is light evidence of handling to the edges. There is a slight undulation to the sheet, inherent to the artist's chosen medium and working method. Under very close inspection and under raking light, there is a 2.5-inch area of skinning along the upper right edge, and there is a brown pinpoint accretion 3-inches from the top edge and 4.75-inches from the left edge. The colors are bright, fresh and clean. The sheet is hinged verso to the mat in each corner. Framed under Plexiglas.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Robert Rauschenberg's Cup from 1958 is a prime example of the artist's revolutionary solvent transfer technique. One of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, Rauschenberg pioneered the radical blending of materials and methods within his paintings, ultimately paving the way for the Pop Art movement and later generations. Trained at the Kansas City Art Institute, the AcadĂ©mie Julien in Paris and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Rauschenberg moved to New York in 1950 as Abstract Expressionism was reaching its peak. Just two years later, he first experimented with the idea of transferring imagery from one support to another. Yet it was not it was not until 1958, the year in which Cup was executed, that Rauschenberg fully devoted himself to the method and crystallized its technique. Embodying a rich energy that reconciles dynamic abstractionist mark-making, a deeply technical mastery of material and a profound conceptual appropriation of contemporary imagery that flickers throughout the composition, Cup is undoubtedly among the very best of Rauschenberg's solvent transfer drawings. Rauschenberg enjoyed the trickery of word play and visual puns and often titled his works to create double meanings. This juxtaposition of seemingly disparate visual references forges enigmatic links to color a picture of everyday American culture. Upon close inspection, the imagery and composition of Cup does not necessarily evoke the quotidian kitchen object itself; instead, various meanings of the word dovetail from transferred images that appear within the drawing. Rauschenberg relied on images carefully selected from Newsweek, Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Life Magazine to illustrate the various meanings and uses of "cup." For instance, 'cup' can refer to a golf hole, while "cup horse" refers to an animal qualified to participate in long distance races. Embedded within the cacophony of color and overlapping images throughout the composition, show horses pose, golf balls fly and runners race, all while Mary Magdalene, pulled from Rogier van der Weyden's Braque Triptych (circa 1452), looks on. The striated and pixelated images from Rauschenberg's transfer technique recall the rush of news, images and advertisements present in everyday life both during the 1950s and for decades to come. Rauschenberg's mastery includes vibrant brushstrokes in prismatic colors that add in his own artistic gesture to otherwise mass produced imagery. 

Rauschenberg's Cup is one of the most significant solvent transfer works to come to auction and demonstrates the artist's ability to harness the complex virtues of American symbolism within the traditionally constricting confines of a two-dimensional sheet of paper. First acquired in 1960 from Leo Castelli Gallery by the legendary collectors Emily and Burton Tremaine, whose world-renowned indexical collection of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art was marked for its quality and depth, Cup has remained in the similarly distinguished collection of Blake Byrne since Byrne acquired it in 1988. Cup stands out among the very best of Rauschenberg's work and has been appreciated by the very best collectors ever since it was executed at the peak of the artist's artistic innovation.