DescriptionROY LICHTENSTEIN (American, 1923-1997)
Sunrise; Sunset (two works), 1964
Ink and graphite on paper
Each: 21 x 30 inches (53.3 x 76.2 cm)
Ben Birillo, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
Mark Borghi Fine Art, New York (label verso)
Private Collection, Chapel Hill, NC
These works are registered at the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation under RLF#5212 and RLF#5213.
In 1964 Fiddler On The Roof opened on Broadway starring Zero Mostel; it went on to win 9 Tony Awards and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, one of which was for Best Musical. After the end of Act 1 no audience member can help but sing "Sunrise, Sunset" and certainly Roy Lichtenstein was aware of this popular and infectious tune when he created this remarkable set of drawings which he titled Sunrise / Sunset just like in the musical.
By 1964 Roy Lichtenstein has separated from his first wife Isabel and has moved back to Manhattan. The winters were too harsh for Isabel while they were living in upstate New York so she left him and they ultimately divorced in 1965. He also resigned from his teaching position at Douglass College on June 30, 1964 to pursue his career as an artist full time. Keep in mind he had an article published about him earlier in 1964 in LIFE magazine (the Jan 31, 1964 issue) titled "Is He The Worst Artist In America?" and was represented by the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery.
By this point in his career he was just starting to break away 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 they were totally eliminated in his paintings and were never seen again. It was also in 1964 he started painting landscapes thus utilizing classical subject matter and morphing it to his own purposes. The landscape like the cartoon was soon to be distilled to it's basics and handled in Lichtenstein's reductive and ingenious way. He stopped using window screens to create the uniformity of Benday dots he desired in his paintings and even started varying the size of the Benday dot. Sunrise / Sunset is the first time the Benday dot grew to an enormous proportion and then cropped to form the Sun; even the ultimate power source of the world had now become a cropped Benday dot. The first Landscape paintings Lichtenstein painted were shown by Leo Castelli at an exhibition held Oct 24-Nov 19, 1964.
Lichtenstein was introduced to his second wife Dorothy Herzka by Ben Birillo while Ben was organizing "The American Supermarket" show in the fall of 1964 at Paul Bianchini Gallery. As a close friend to Roy Lichtenstein Ben Birillo was gifted a landscape painting, Black And White Sunrise, and this monumental set of drawings, Sunrise / Sunset in 1964.
Next to noted gallerist Leo Castelli, Ben Birillo owned more Pop Art than anyone during the era.
Birillo bought and sold such volumes of art through the Castelli Gallery that Castelli often referred
to him as the 'Castelli Annex'. In the early days of Pop Art, he was called 'Mr. Pop Art', often
contemptuously by his peers. Despite criticism from Pop Art's detractors, Birillo's friendship,
creative working relationship with many of his artistic peers, and his penchant for promoting
their work led to his involvement building notable collections, including the Leon Kraushar collection,
perhaps the most respected private Pop Art collection ever amassed.
In the early 1960s, lvan Karp approached Ben Birillo and asked him to rescue the Bianchini Gallery
as a favor. Thanks to his sizeable collection and his extensive network, Ben brought new artists to
the gallery and devised creative ways to exhibit their work. Under Ben Birillo's direction, the Bianchini
Gallery began to ?ourish.
On October 6, 1964, "The American Supermarket" opened at New York's Bianchini Gallery, turning the
once failing gallery into a premiere destination. The show, conceived by artist and gallerist Ben Birillo,
originally was supposed to be entirely Birillo's artwork. However, he decided to contract other artists
to use as his palette and create additional objects for his show. This groundbreaking exhibition included
works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Artschwager, Robert Watts, Tom Wesselmann, Claes
Oldenburg, Billy Apple, and several other contributors. After a successful American debut that garnered
media attention from LIFE magazine and The New York Times, "The American Supermarket" toured Europe,
securing Pop Art's reputation both nationally and abroad.
The Black And White Landscape was later sold by Leo Castelli in 1966 and 40 years later ultimately sold at Sotheby's November 14th, 2006 for $6,624,000, while the set of drawings remained in the Ben Birillo collection until their sale to our consignor in 2008.
Besides the unique provenance and it's place in Pop Art (in particular Roy Lichtenstein's oeuvre); it is the scale and date of this drawing set that makes it quite unique and a true stand out among Lichtenstein drawings from this early 1960s time period. Sunrise / Sunset is a relatively early work in the artist's career, just a couple years after he began to gain notoriety for his paintings and just two years before his first museum retrospective exhibition. The size of the drawings is enormous compared to other drawings during the same time period as he tended to execute very small drawings so he could place them on his image duplicator and blow them up to size. The sun's rays are completely painted in black rather than the more typical quick pencil shading seen in so many of Lichtenstein's drawings of this era and Lichtenstein allows for a large amount of negative space thus showcasing the vastness of the sky; and when these two works are framed, they read more as completed paintings rather than working drawings.
Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000.
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