Executed in 1972, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Roy Lichtenstein's monumental 1972 Still Life with Palette glows with the exquisite simplicity of its harmonious shape, form and color. Lichtenstein composed it calculatingly, as he did with each work in his acclaimed early 1970s Still Life series and it builds upon his earliest still lifes of the 1960s, where he focused on simple, consumerist objects like balls of twine and bowls of fruit. Lichtenstein further explores this format, turning his idiosyncratic style back on itself by including motifs from earlier series, such as the reversed canvases, in order to tackle a more complex arrangement of traditional objects, and, with it, notions of artistic authorship and composition.
Still Life with Palette belongs to a series of large scale Still Life paintings which Lichtenstein began in 1972. Over the next four years he would combine this traditional form of composition with his own distinctive style to explore the deceptive simplicity and subtle complexities of pictorial form. Lichtenstein continued to explore the genre by incorporating an increasing number of art historical styles, including abstraction and cubism, into his work - testing the boundaries of his art with an increasingly rich variety of visual techniques. These Still Life's form the central part of the artist's career in his immediate post-Pop years and are contained in major museum collections around the world, including the Untitled (Still Life with Lemon and Glass) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cubist Still Life in the National Gallery of Art and Still Life with Crystal Bowl at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Still life's evolution is among art history's most enduring and fascinating stories. How people relate with the objects around them has always mattered, and paintings' philosophical associations generally reflect their own time. Still Life with Palette embodies two fundamental tenets underpinning Lichtenstein's oeuvre: He intuitively grasped both visual communication's essential nature and previous modern art movements' abiding legitimacy. Lichtenstein portrays a traditional still-life subject while referencing early Picasso and Braque and remaining sensitive to Matisse. He makes Still Life with Palette converse with other artworks, thereby staking his own claim to a place in modern art history.
Still life's centuries-old tradition afforded Lichtenstein the opportunity to indulge his fascination with composition's formal qualities. He selected supple draped fabric, hard and reflective surfaces of bottles and jars and soft plant leaves, giving him a rich combination of textures to explore. Traditionally, still lifes also had an added sexual dimension, with bountiful displays of exotic and ripe produce representing the family's fecundity and their land's fertility. However, Lichtenstein did not concern himself with such elements; he instead riveted his attention to the formal balancing acts he began to undertake in 1972.
Lichtenstein flattened the composition and its individual elements, using perspective reductively. Nonetheless, the canvas remains remarkably rich with visual possibilities. Even though he adapts traditional shading techniques with his signature Benday dots and reduces the color palette to a few strong tones, the image remains intense. Inviting the viewer to wallow in the canvas's sheer intensity, hard and soft lines and strong shadows all fight for our attention. 17th Century European still lifes tested the artist's skill at rendering a rich variety of textures. Proving his own painterly skill, Lichtenstein achieves the same effect but through completely opposite artistic means.
Like his predecessors, Lichtenstein represents his own age's values: the era of American mass production and promotional advertising subordinates religious and "moral" values to commercial, superficial ones. As Lichtenstein explained, "I'm interested in the kind of image in the same way that one would develop a classical form, an ideal head for instance. Some people don't really believe in this any more, but that was the idea, in a way, of classical work: ideal figures of people and godlike people. Well, the same thing has been developed in cartoons. It's not called classical, it's called a cliché. Well, I'm interested in my work's redeveloping these classical ways, except that it's not classical, it's like a cartoon" (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, pp. 226-227).
Lichtenstein moves away from Matisse's painterly, transparent facture with his tight finish, while renewing Cubist style with bold color. He also recombines certain elements of the composition, including a reference to Raphaelle Peale's 1823 painting After the Bat, creating a new setting as a backdrop to an array of vessels and larger-than-life tools, all rendered with linear economy and flattened space. Using incredible draftsmanship and skill, he strategically manipulates, reorganizes and reframes his subjects, and engages in a complex dialogue with his forefathers, allowing the painting to become more than the sum of its parts. It is no short order to reinvent one of painting's oldest genres, the still life. Lichtenstein utilized his trademark pictorial vocabulary to redefine what on the surface appears naïve, but is actually highly sophisticated and compellingly reexamines the nature of representation.
Still Life with Palette
Oil and magna on canvas
Property of an East Coast Estate
Signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '72' (on the reverse)
Roy Lichtenstein , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Contemporary
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, February-March 1973.
Saint Louis Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art and Fort Worth Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1970-1980, May 1981-February 1982, p. 54 (illustrated).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein Still Lifes, May-July 2010, pp. 121 and 220 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
60 x 95 5/8 in. (152.4 x 242.9 cm.)
Roy Lichtenstein, Meditations on Art, exh. cat., Milan, 2010, pp. 194-195 (illustrated in color).
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Enrico Carimati, Milan, 1981
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York
Private collectin, Dallas
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 12 November 1986, lot 43
Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner