Sotheby’s Splendidly Racy Late Lichtenstein Could Fetch $20 Million

Comparable works have always exceeded estimates.

Roy Lichtenstein's Nude Sunbathing (1995). Photo: © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

A pristine late Roy Lichtenstein canvas will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s New York’s upcoming contemporary art evening auction in May. The auction house expects the work to sell for a price in the region of $20 million.

Titled Nude Sunbathing, the canvas—which is making its auction debut—is part of the first series the legendary pop artist painted after his 1993 retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York, and was created only two years before the artist’s death in 1997.

Toward the end of his career, Lichtenstein became increasingly preoccupied with his legacy. This is reflected in the increased appearance of art historical references in his late work, which often leaned on the influence of artists such as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse.

Sotheby’s New York headquarters. Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images.

In Nude Sunbathing, the impact of this source material takes the shape of the abstraction of the female figure to its most simplified form, consisting only of the artist’s characteristic black outline and gradated dots. Additionally, the inclusion of a border on the left and top side of the canvas signifies the artist’s take on mise-en-abyme—the picture within a picture—a practice that Lichtenstein adopted in several pieces as he reached the end of his life.

Lichtenstein’s late work, especially pieces featuring female nudes, are highly desirable among collectors. According to the artnet Price Database, the six highest-selling paintings created during the final five years of the artist’s life (1992–97) all feature female nudes, and all exceeded their pre-sale estimates.

The top four, all similar paintings to the current lot, sold for between $21.5 million and $31.5 million. The most recent sale, in 2016, for 1994’s Nudes in Mirror, brought in $21.5 million at Phillips New York.

Roy Lichtenstein, <em>Nude with Red Shirt</em> (1995) sold for $28 million at Christie's New York in 2012. Courtesy of Christie's New York.

Roy Lichtenstein, Nude with Red Shirt (1995) sold for $28 million at Christie’s New York in 2012. Courtesy of Christie’s New York.

“Benday dots, a vibrant red, and a seductive temptress make this the ultimate late Lichtenstein” Amy Cappellazzo, Sotheby’s chairman of the fine art division, said in statement. “Reimagining the archetypal woman that dominated his iconic early ‘60s paintings, Nude Sunbathing is unabashed in its sensuality. Lichtenstein’s larger-than-life nude in repose confidently occupies the entirety of the canvas, endowed more with the strength of her own desire rather than the vulnerability of the comic-book damsels that defined Lichtenstein’s early Girls.

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