At Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Contemporary Art on May 9, Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl from 1964 sets a new record. One of the high points of the artist’s comic book-inspired paintings and an icon of postwar American art fetched a new record price of $44.8 million. A 36 x 36 inches, image of a sultry blonde exceeded its high estimate of $40 million and the previous record of $43.2 million.
Sleeping Girl has not appeared on the market since it was purchased by noted West Coast collectors and philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh, from the Ferus Gallery in 1964. In the 48 years since its purchase, the painting has been exhibited only once, in the 1989/90 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles exhibition Selections from the Beatrice and Philip Gersh Collection. The Gershes, (Mr and Mrs) who were also the founding members of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, passed away in the last decade, leaving the painting in the artist’s signature for the world to reap from.
Great icons make great prices, Tobias Meyer, director of Sotheby’s contemporary art department worldwide and the evening’s auctioneer, said after the sale. He added, The market is more global than ever before, pointing out that the five bidders for Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl, from 1964, came from China, North and South America and Europe. The price paid by the winner — an unidentified telephone bidder — was a record for the artist, beating last year’s record of $43.2 million set at Christie’s in November.
At the same sale, there were also a number of Warhols, including Double Elvis (Ferus Type), a life-sized silver silkscreen image from 1963 of Elvis Presley depicted as a cowboy, fetch $37 million. The artwork, one of 22 Warhol dedicated to the famous singer, had been expected to sell for as much as $50 million.
This Sotheby’s sale was the second of three consecutive evening contemporary art auctions in New York. It came a day after Christie’s auction, which was steeped in work by Abstract Expressionist painters like Mark Rothko, whose 1961 canvas Orange, Red, Yellow sold for nearly $87 million — a record for any contemporary artwork at auction.