The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick
This work will appear in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Muse is a seminal example of the artist’s conflation of popular culture and fine art. Based on Constantin Brâncusi’s revolutionary 1910 bronze sculpture of the same name, Lichtenstein appropriates the elegant curves of the iconic work and renders them in his own unique aesthetic. He utilizes the thick bold lines made famous in his paintings inspired by the comic books of the 1950s and uses them to define the elegant silhouette and graceful contours of his subject’s face. Widely considered to be one Lichtenstein’s most accomplished sculptural forms (another example from the edition was included in the 2012-2013 major retrospective of the artist’s work organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern), Sleeping Muse marks a point in the artist’s career where he began to free himself from the flat, two dimensional world of the comic book and expand his unique aesthetic into a new dimension.
Taking Brâncusi’s sculpture as his starting point, Lichtenstein reduces the already simplified features further by realizing the delicately closed eyes and slender lips with a series of deftly executed arcs and curves. A sense of spatial depth and perspective is then added by the carefully placed hatching lines which act to cast a shadow over the lower portion of the face. Condensing the infinite subtleties of the human face into a series of strong artistic gestures, Lichtenstein pares down his vocabulary so much that only ‘art’ is left as a subject as he taps into the dizzying mysteries of what constituted looking and representing that defined the artist’s career.
Executed in 1983, Sleeping Muse is indebted to an earlier painting which has become one of Lichtenstein’s most iconic images. Sleeping Girl from 1964 is one of the sophisticated women paintings in which Lichtenstein’s revolutionary appropriation of comic-strip imagery reached new levels of potency and refinement. These heroines were lifted from the pages of romantic comic books to become prototypes of the Pop Art movement. They reflected his formal interest in the nature of representation and the cultural dichotomy between male and female stereotypes. They are among the most desired twentieth-century art works, and are housed in the world’s major art museums and prestigious private collections.
In Sleeping Muse however, Lichtenstein appropriates a much more classic muse. The creative impulse generated by the figure of a sleeping woman is one of the most powerful compulsions in all of art history and artist’s attempts to capture the fleeting qualities of eternal beauty have resulted in some of the most beautiful and iconic images in centuries of visual culture. The seductive outlines of a slumbering female figure have been reproduced in many forms—from the delicate figurines carved by anonymous admirers in ancient civilizations to the curvaceous silhouettes captured by the masters of the Renaissance. The seductive silhouette of Brâncusi’s Sleeping Muse that depicts the haunting beauty of the female face with breathtaking simplicity, is regarded as the highpoint of the artist’s rendition of femininity in the twentieth century. Yet, just a few decades later the seductive power of the female figure was in danger of being relegated to the history books as the gestural power of Abstract Expressionism gripped the world of contemporary painting. With works such as the present example, Lichtenstein takes his place in the pantheon of artists of the female form, not only revitalized an artistic practice that had been languishing for decades but also rejuvenating it with a range of qualities that ensured its continued significance in the history of contemporary painting. With its enticing mix of sensuality and pathos, Sleeping Muse is an important part of a distinguished tradition that dates back thousands of years, in which the figure of sleeping female has been the inspiration for the some of the most creative minds in human history.
Although Lichtenstein has always been viewed in the context of the avant-garde, he had strong feelings about being part of a larger tradition of art history. “The big tradition, I think, is unity and I have that in mind; and with that, you know you could break all the other traditions—all the other so-called rules, because they’re stylistic...Unity in the work itself depends on unity of the artist’s vision...I’ve never thought of my work as anti-art, because I’ve always thought it was organized; it’s just that I thought it was a different style and therefore a different content as well” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, New York, p. 15). Sleeping Muse is an example of a work that is both part of a larger dialogue of art history, portraiture and mythology, as well as the more contemporary concerns of commodification and popular culture, realized with an astonishing level of assurance and beauty.
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
New York, 65 Thompson Street, Roy Lichtenstein Bronze Sculpture, 1976-1989, May-July 1989, pp. 4-5, 69 and 89, no. 25 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Lichtenstein: Sculptures and Drawings, June–September 1999, pp. 4, 53, 59 and 148, no. 97 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, Roy Lichtenstein: Inside/Outside, December 2001–February 2002, pp. 81 and 106, no. 25 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
London and New York, Gagosian Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture, June–October 2005, pp. 64-65 and 118 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Milan, La Triennale di Milano, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, January–May 2010, p. 318, no. 51 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Art Institute of Chicago; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; London, Tate Modern and Paris, Centre Pompidou, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, May 2012-November 2013, p. 222, no. 82 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Venice, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Roy Lichtenstein Sculptor, May–November 2013, pp. 165 and 282, no. 125 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New, exh. cat., Cologne, Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2005, p. 207 (installation view illustrated in color).
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1986