This work will appear in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Masterfully-executed upon a vast canvas, Roy Lichtenstein’s Interior with Yves Klein Sculpture is a monumental example of the artist’s Interiors series. A dazzling interplay of color, pattern and line, the painting engulfs the viewer in its fictitious, art-filled world by nature of its massive scale and flawless execution. An entire wall is given over to Lichtenstein’s signature Ben-Day Dots, meticulously rendered in precise, finite detail against a yellow background, its effect dynamic and lively. The surface of Lichtenstein’s canvas is like no other. Its impeccable appearance belies the months-long, painstaking process of its creation. Crisply-rendered dots and diagonals punctuate the composition while a bright, Pop palette activates and energizes the sleek and modern living area he depicts. The Yves Klein sculpture, depicted in the most precise blue hue, evokes Klein’s work with profound accuracy. Rendered with an actual sponge, the effect of Lichtenstein’s lively daubs against the crisply-ordered, perfectionist interior is revelatory. Created in 1991, this lively and inventive painting is an exceptional example of the artist’s Interiors series, where many of the key themes of his classic paintings are revitalized and rediscovered, as they engage in a witty dialogue with the history of art itself.
Lichtenstein created some of his best paintings during the last decade of his career. Thoughtful, virtuosic, many times layered with meaning, the paintings of this era witnessed a prolific artist at the height of his powers. Coming of age in the 1960s, Lichtenstein defined himself against the prevailing aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism, a style that had devolved into a second generation of imitative copycats, one that many artists felt derivative and lifeless. Crisp, cool, seemingly devoid of the messy, gestural emotion of the Abstract Expressionists, Lichtenstein’s Pop Art propelled him to fame seemingly overnight, but as early as the 1970s, the artist realized even his own work was in danger of being repetitive. Lichtenstein’s answer to this, an artist’s most daunting challenge, was to seek innovation while continuing to work within his signature style. A series of thoughtful still life paintings emerged, in which Lichtenstein engaged with the great Modernist masters, from Matisse to Picasso and Braque, only to evolve into the more complex and masterful Artist’s Studio series. In the 1990s, Lichtenstein’s Interiors were born of this continued pursuit. Infused with the sardonic in-jokes that only an artist of his stature could pull off, the Interiors are witty, knowing paintings that are some of Lichtenstein’s best, most accomplished work.
In Interior with Yves Klein Sculpture, masterworks of art history mingle side-by-side with everyday objects of consumer culture within a sleek, modern interior. On one wall, a portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein has been translated into Lichtenstein’s signature style. Its original background of luxurious ultramarine has been transformed into diagonal blue stripes, its facial features reduced to a field of red Ben-Day dots. In the foreground, the whimsical depiction of a 1959 Yves Klein sponge sculpture energizes the pristine space with a potent jolt of blue, while in the background, the poised heel of the Discus Thrower and its arm-wielding disk can just be seen, rendered in cartoon-like black-and-white as if pulled from the pages of a 1960s comic book.
Along the back wall, Lichtenstein frames an unusual painting that finds no place alongside the greatest wonders of art history: a homey, quotidian armchair rendered in simple, black-and-white outlines upon a non-descript, blank background, its only accoutrements a humble blue lamp and a traditional side table. Since Lichtenstein often included his own paintings within the Interiors series, it is tempting to conclude that this painting of common objects might represent his own work. The painting reiterates the succinct, matter-of-fact style of Lichtenstein’s earliest black-and-white paintings of the 1960s. Painting himself onto the wall, Lichtenstein arranges his own work among the “greatest hits” of art history, a clever trick that only an artist at the height of his powers could pull off. The painting’s pastiche of an ornate, gilded frame provides an ironical punch, which is all the more telling considering the Holbein is not even framed at all. Does this indicate the supremacy of Pop Art over the hallowed lineage of art history’s greatest masters like Holbein, whose portraits of unparalleled realism established the genre of portraiture as we know it today?
Along the painting’s right edge, the poised heel of the Discus Thrower is set upon a simple, round base, humorously rendered in black-and-white as if lifted from the pages of a comic-book illustration. Its disc-wielding arm and upturned heel are both cropped along the painting’s edge, leaving the pent-up tension of the figure’s body entirely to the viewer’s imagination. Lichtenstein even transforms the venerable Henry VIII portrait into the simple graphics of his signature style. The sixteenth century portrait so prized for its exacting detail, sumptuous use of materials and lifelike verisimilitude is reduced, flattened and exaggerated to comical effect.
Source materials from the artist’s studio indicate the artist based his depiction on reproductions of the works, rather than copying from life—the Discobolus from the pages of a 1962 art book and the Yves Klein from a Sidney Janis Gallery exhibition catalogue from 1986. By copying from a copy, Lichtenstein acknowledges the ubiquitous nature of these familiar art historical images in a media-saturated world, a concept which is all the more telling considering the Discobolus depicted was actually a Roman copy of the Greek original.
By this time in his career, Lichtenstein certainly recognized his own hallowed standing in the canonical roster of history’s greatest artists, and by depicting his own work in a mock-ornate frame alongside the likes of Holbein, Yves Klein and the classical Greeks, he engages in a sardonic dialogue with the history of art itself. By selecting such diverse imagery as if from an encyclopedia of art’s greatest hits, and by depicting them within his own spare and reduced visual language, Lichtenstein reduces art to its archetypes, to those codified symbols embedded in our collective consciousness. In much the same way that his earliest paintings of ordinary objects pointed to the abundance of consumer products in a post-war America and its homogenization, Lichtenstein’s Interiors expand that notion to the history of art itself, including Lichtenstein’s own work. As the Lichtenstein scholar Graham Bader so aptly described: “The paintings suggest that to make art is to engage in a game of reflection and refraction that stretches across history and between works, enveloping artist, image and viewer alike” (Graham Bader, quoted in “Painting Reflection,” Roy Lichtenstein Reflected, exh. cat., Mitchell, Innes & Nash, New York, 2011, p. 57).
In 1992, Interior with Yves Klein Sculpture was included in a now-legendary exhibition at the Castelli Gallery that marked the dealer’s 35th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of Lichtenstein’s debut there in 1962. Reviewing the paintings for the New York Times, the inimitable critic Roberta Smith lauded the Interiors, singling out Interior with Yves Klein Sculpture from others in the group. She wrote: “Roy Lichtenstein has a nearly inexhaustible talent for putting his best-known visual strategies to fresh uses. This is resoundingly affirmed by his latest paintings, a series of big, cartoonish domestic interiors on view. … Clean of color, crisp of line, these paintings are full of Mr. Lichtenstein’s most famous motifs and devices. His signatory black outlines and Ben Day dot patterns, borrowed from the comics in the early 1960’s, are here, as are quotations from other art and artists through the ages. Yet these images of well-appointed living rooms and bedroom suites outfitted with paintings and sculptures seem strikingly unfamiliar, as if every element in them has been rethought and retooled. … In short, the show includes some of the best paintings Mr. Lichtenstein has produced in the last 15 years” (R. Smith, quoted in “Review/Art; Inviting (if Fanciful) Rooms from the View of Roy Lichtenstein,” New York Times, 7 February 1992).
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Oil and Magna on canvas
Property from a Private American Collection
Signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '91' (on the reverse)
Roy Lichtenstein , 1990s, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
New York, Castelli Gallery, My Thirty Years with Roy Lichtenstein: A Celebration and an exhibition of his ‘Interiors’, February 1992.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Montreal, Musée des Beaux Arts; Munich, Haus Der Kunst; Hamburg, Diechtorhallen; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts and Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Roy Lichtenstein, October 1993-January 1996, pp. 304-305 and 393, pl. 237 (illustrated in color).
120 x 170 ¼ in. (304.8 x 432.4 cm.)
R. Smith, "Review/Art; Inviting (if Fanciful) Rooms from the View of Roy Lichtenstein," New York Times, 7 February 1992.
B. Adams, “Roy Lichtenstein’s Interiors,” Atelier, June 1992, no. 784.
M. McKenzie, “The World According to Roy,” SunStorm/Fine Art, Spring 1994, p. 34 (illustrated in color).
Roy Lichtenstein: Interiors, exh. cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999, p. 23 (illustrated in color).
Roy Lichtenstein: Beginning to End, exh. cat., Madrid, Fundación Juan March, 2007, p. 132 (studio view illustrated).
C. Lanchner, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2009, p. 43, fig. 33 and 34 (illustrated in color).
G. Bader, ed., Roy Lichtenstein: October Files 7, Cambridge and London, 2009, p. 70 (illustrated).
Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1998