Roy Lichtenstein was a unique figure in the emergence of Pop art having been so directly connected with high culture exploitation of comic book imagery and visual language. His earliest works caused Andy Warhol to abandon his own experiments with images of superheroes taken from comic books because, Warhol concluded to Henry Geldzahler, “Roy was doing comics so well.” Lichtenstein remains among the most influential figures in American visual culture with works in the permanent collections of leading museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.
The highest price paid for a Lichtenstein was reportedly the $165 million collector Steven Cohen agreed to give to Agnes Gund for her work, Masterpiece in a private sale. Public auctions of Lichtenstein’s work have not come close to that figure. Still, the artist’s top ten public sale records establish him among the ranks of the top selling artists at auction, and include a host of his widely recognized motifs:
Nurse for $95,365,000
Christie’s Artist’s Muse Evening Sale in November 2015 saw Nurse sell on a single bid for $95.4m. The sale sparked controversy over the identity of the anonymous phone bidder who won the painting after only one bid. Speculation mounted over whether the buyer was Christie’s owner François Pinault acting as a third-party guarantor for the sale. The work was consigned by Boston collector Barbara Lee who purchased the painting over the phone at a Sotheby’s sale in May 1995 for just $1.7 million. Before landing with Barbara Lee, Nurse had passed through the hands of several famous collectors including Peter Brant and Karl Stroher. The work’s most impressive provenance was that it had been part of Leon Kraushar’s collection. In seven short years before his death at the age of 54, Kraushar had accumulated 200 works of Pop art from a wide range of artists. In a famous photograph from Life magazine, Kraushar is depicted lounging on a bed with a telephone to his ear underneath three Warhol portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy. In the foreground of the picture, Nurse hangs on another wall of the bedroom.
Woman with Flowered Hat for $56.1 million
Lichtenstein riffed on the work of other artists several times in his career porting Monet, Cubism and Picasso over into his Ben-Day style of painting. One of three Picasso paintings he recreated in the 1960s, this portrait of Dora Marr portrait sold in May 2013 during a Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale to collector Laurence Graff, who bid for the work himself in the New York sale room against three others. Carrying a pre-sale estimate of $30 million, the work was a part of a blockbuster $495 million auction.
Sleeping Girl for $44.8 million
In May 2012, Sleeping Girl from 1964 sold in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening sale in New York, exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $30 million. In the early 1960s, when Lichtenstein began sourcing images from D.C. comic anthologies, he used an illustration from a series titled Girl Romance, from which he took an image of a teary-eyed blonde for a new painting. Shown sleeping, instead of crying, in this remake, Lichtenstein made other minor adjustments.
I can see the whole room!… and there’s nobody in it! For $43.2 million
This four-foot square work came to Christie’s New York in November 2011 where is sold for $43.2 million, landing solidly within its pre-sale expectation of $35-45 million. Produced in 1961, it is one of the earliest works Lichtenstein made, and was featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s major 1983 The Comic Art Show: Cartoons in Painting and Popular Culture. Sourced from a cartoon, an original image also associated with the work is surrealist Rene Magritte’s 1932-35 work L’Oeil (The Eye). The work was once a part of the collection of Emily and Burton Tremaine.
Ohhh…Alright… for $42.6 million
In 2005, Ohhh…Alright… from 1964, which was once owned by Steve Martin and later Steve Wynn, went for a record $42.6 million in Christie’s November sale.
The Ring (engagement) for $41.7 million
Stefan Edlis sold The Ring (Engagement) at Sotheby’s in New York in May 2015—the same year he and his wife Gael Neeson donated $400 million worth of art to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Ring was estimated at $50m but sold for $41.7 million. The disappointment was hardly a loss for Edlis who had acquired the work in 1997 from a French collector for just $2.2 million.
Seductive girl for $32.5 million
Seductive Girl (1996), a painting completed in Lichtenstein in 1996 as part of his later career Nude series came to auction in 2013 at Christie’s in New York . It sold in the Post-War and Contemporary Evening sale for $32.5 million. The original image came from Lichtenstein’s central source, the D.C. comic Love Me Not for Beauty Only.
Kiss III sold for $31.1 million
Estimated at $30-50 million in May 2019 New York evening sale at Christie’s, Kiss III (1962) sold at the low end of the scale. Completed the same year Lichtenstein opened his inaugural solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, the work was sold by collectors Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer.
Red and White Brushstrokes sold for $28.5 million
Red and White Brushstrokes from 1965 struggled against its pre-sale estimate of $25-35 million when it sold in a Sotheby’s evening sale in May 2017.
Nude with Red Shirt sold for 28 million
Another example of the artist’s late nudes, the 1995 image sold for a staggering $28 million at a pre-sale estimate of $12-18 million at a Christie’s evening sale in New York in November 2012. Based on a 1967 comic issue titled Reaching for Happiness: Can you be thrilled by one man while you’re in love with another?, the painting was completed following Lichtenstein’s major solo survey at the Guggenheim in 1995.