The market for Roy Lichtenstein’s art has exploded in the last two decades. Major exhibitions in America and Europe have brought his iconic, comic book-inspired works to a wider audience of enthusiasts and collectors – and this is reflected in the high prices his art commands on the secondary market. Here we take a look at Lichtenstein’s top ten artworks at auction, including his record-breaking Nurse from 2015 and the recent Nude with Joyous Painting, sold in July 2020.
Featuring Lichtenstein’s iconic bold colours, Ben-Day dots and comic-book theme, Nurse set the world auction record for the artist when it sold in Christie’s The Artist’s Muse auction in New York on 9 November 2015. Painted in 1964 – at the height of Lichtenstein’s career – Nurse was first bought by the advertising executive Leon Kraushar, who assembled one of the greatest collections of Pop Art ever known, before it was acquired industrialist Karl Ströher, whose family owned the Wella haircare brand.
Between 1962–63, Lichtenstein created four paintings inspired by the works of Pablo Picasso. Woman with Flowered Hat was the last in this series. Unlike the Picasso version, however, Lichtenstein changed the woman’s hair from brown to blonde. “The Picasso is converted to my pseudo-cartoon style and takes on a character of its own,” the artist had said. The work sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 May 2013 in a bidding battle lasting almost six minutes.
This 10 July, Lichtenstein’s Nude with Joyous Painting established its place in the artist’s top three works at auction when it became the most expensive lot in Christie’s ONE: A Global Sale of the 20th Century sale. Bids came in from New York, Hong Kong and over the telephone, finally selling after 10 minutes of intense bidding. The painting, created in the last years of Lichtenstein’s life, is considered the most important work in the artist’s last, great series of nudes. Even artist Jeff Koons agreed that “the later women paintings and nudes that Roy did are just absolutely gorgeous”.
Sold in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 9 May 2012, Sleeping Girl from 1964 was the joint star lot of the night – alongside a painting by Francis Bacon, which sold for the same price. Sleeping Girl was fought over by five bidders from China, Europe and North and South America, before it sold to an unidentified telephone bidder and set a record for the artist at the time. The work’s former owners, Beatrice and Philip Gersh, bought the painting in the same year it was created and kept in their collection for almost half a century before it made its auction debut.
Painted in 1961, I Can See The Whole Room!… is among the most important of Lichtenstein’s early Pop Art works. Although the artist had been painting for over 15 years by then, it was only in the early ’60s that he delved into the cartoon imagery that established his reputation. The man depicted was inspired by a Steve Roper cartoon story, also made in 1961, although Lichtenstein added the bright yellow background – a nod, he said, to colours from supermarket packaging. The work sold at Christie’s Post-War Contemporary Evening Sale in New York on 8 November 2011.
Setting an auction record when it sold at Christie’s in New York on 10 November 2010, Lichtenstein’s blue-eyed, flame-haired heroine in Ohhh…Alright… was one of a cast of lovelorn girls that he painted between 1961 and 1965. When asked later why he painted so many sad female characters at the time, Lichtenstein replied “well, I was in the middle of a divorce. I don’t know if that had an effect, but it might have”. The original illustration was taken from the DC comic book Secret Hearts, in which the girl’s sweetheart cancels their date over a telephone call.
When the legendary antique dealer Jean-Marie Rossi purchased Lichtenstein’s The Ring (Engagement) in 1963, a year after it was painted, he paid the equivalent of just US$1,000 for it. 53 years and another owner later, the painting sold for over US$41million at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 12 May 2015 – the second-most expensive work of the night. This sweeping depiction of romance has featured in major museum exhibitions from the Tate galleries in London, to Fondation Beyeler, Centre Pompidou and the Art Institute of Chicago.
At almost six feet wide, Seductive Girl is a large-than-life work from Lichtenstein’s final, great Nudes series of 1993–97. Like in his early career, the artist raided old comic books for inspiration but – unlike his lovesick heroines of 1960s – these late nudes were depicted as self-assured and happy in their own company. While the original illustration featured the girl in a frilly nightgown, here Lichtenstein has painted her undressed. “It’s kind of amusing that you just paint them and leave the clothes off and it means something different. It’s more riveting,” the artist said of the decision.
Like many of Lichtenstein’s other early works from 1962, Kiss III is filled with passion and drama. “I was interested in anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong,” Lichtenstein later explained. “Usually love, war, or something that was highly charged and emotional subject matter to be opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques”. The painting was among the top works sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 15 May 2019.
At first, Lichtenstein’s 1960s Brushstroke series was believed to be a sly comment on the Abstract Expressionism movement – and the artist himself fuelled the speculation. “[I]t’s taking something that originally was supposed to mean immediacy and I’m tediously drawing something that looks like a brushstroke… I want it to look as though it were painstaking,” Lichtenstein explained. But the artist was also quick to add: “The things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire”. Red And White Brushstrokes far exceeded its low estimate when it sold at Christie’s in New York on 17 May 2017.