Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 ink and graphite on paper masterpiece, Sunrise; Sunset, is expected to realize more than $400,000 when it comes across the auction block as the lead lot in Heritage Auctions’ Oct. 23 Modern & Contemporary Art Signature Auction, taking place at the company’s Design District Annex, 1518 Slocum Street.
“In 1964 Fiddler On The Roof was the toast of Broadway, where it went on to win 9 Tony Awards, one of which was for Best Musical,” said Frank Hettig, Director of Modern & Contemporary Art at Heritage. “The Act 1 closer, ‘Sunrise, Sunset,’ was a pop culture phenomenon and one of the Broadway canon’s most memorable tunes. Certainly Lichtenstein was aware of this popular and infectious tune when he created this remarkable set of drawings with the same title.”
By the time this wonderfully reductive painting emerged from Lichtenstein’s mind, three important things had occurred in his life: he had separated from his first wife, Isabel, and moved back to Manhattan, he had resigned from teaching at Douglass College to pursue art full time and he had begun the break from painting the cartoons containing dialogue boxes complete with text, which were so prevalent in his oeuvre the prior couple of years, starting with Look Mickey in 1961.
“In fact, words were rarely appearing in his paintings in 1964 and, by 1966, were totally eliminated from his paintings and were never seen again,” said Hettig. “It was also in ’64 that he started painting landscapes, utilizing classical subject matter and morphing it to his own purposes.”
The landscape, like the cartoon, was soon to be distilled to its basics and handled in Lichtenstein’s ingenious way. He stopped using window screens to create the uniformity of the famous Benday dots he desired in his paintings, even varying the size of the dots.
“Sunrise;Sunset is doubly important because it represents the first time the Benday dot grew to an enormous proportion, which was then cropped to form the Sun in this work,” added Hettig. “Even the ultimate power source of the world had now become a cropped Benday dot.”
Another top highlight of the auction comes in the form of the recently uncovered Richard Diebenkorn painting, Untitled, circa 1951 (estimate: $150,000+), a work by the master missing from the total census of his work until it was found to be in the Texas-based collection of the consignor.
“This is a great find and speaks to the depth of the collections, and to the discerning eyes of collectors, in Texas,” said Hettig. “This is a piece that was well-cared for and well-loved over the decades and, now, stands as a great investment for the family that has been its’ steward all these years.”
Rounding out the top trio of art offerings in the auction is a sublime Jean-Michel Basquiat, Free Comb with Pagoda, 1986, an intriguing mixed media work on paper from the notorious street artist who rapidly rose to fame in the 1980s with his graffiti-inspired art. It carries an estimate of $80,000+.
One of the most interesting lots in the Oct. 24 event is a working maquette for a Salvador Dalí exhibition, April 14 to May 5, 1943 at the Galleries of M. Knoedler and Company, Inc. New York. The piece, expected to bring $40,000+, was created using a catalog for a previous El Greco loan exhibition at Knoedler and contains 16 original tipped-in sketches, 13 of which are sepia pen while three are ink and three are pencil. It also contains annotations in both Dalí’s hand and that of his wife, Gala.