Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Property from a Private American Collection 
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Deep in Thought

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Deep in Thought
signed and dated '(c) rf Lichtenstein '80' (on the reverse)
oil and magna on canvas
50¼ x 60 in. (127 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1980.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Mayor Gallery, London
Private collection, Florida
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 13 November 1991, lot 53
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Roy Lichtenstein 1970-1980, exh. cat., St. Louis, 1981, p. 135.
London, Mayor Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Recent Painting, October-November 1980.

Lot Essay

Executed in 1980, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Roy Lichtenstein's Deep in Thought graphically renders the trials of human creativity by depicting an engrossed, contemplative figure. Completed when he was exploring Expressionism during the early 1980s, the work starkly mixes muscular lines, strong colors and Lichtenstein's signature graphic technique, to produce an image of great intensity. The figure is lost deep in her own world, resting, head in hands with eyes tightly closed and a pen gripped between her fingers. By simplifying, in his unique way, the human face's infinite subtleties and complexities, Lichtenstein removes all vestiges of personality and focuses attention on the intensity of the thought process. In addition, Lichtenstein covers one half of the face with a swathe of deep shadow and the other half with striations of rich blue, condensing his signature reductive depiction of tone and depth even further, masterfully depicting this captured moment of internal intensity with minimal means.

Lichtenstein long favored the image of a woman "deep in thought." Blond Waiting (1964) and Anxious Girl (1964) take their visual cues from the supermarket romantic novels of Lichtenstein's youth and date from a high point of his career, but in the present work, he enhances these images with a dramatic new visual language inspired by his investigation of the traditions of art history. He has replaced the overt sexuality depicted in his earlier works - with their luscious ruby red lips and bright sapphire blue eyes - with the thinnest of straight lines. The woman's curvy locks of golden hair, instead of tumbling down over bare shoulders, form severe angles that frame the face with audacious rigidity.

This dramatic succession from his work of two decades earlier makes sense for an artist whose primary interest was the nature of depiction. Having already secured his position in art history as a principal figure within the Pop Art movement, Lichtenstein now employed many of his comic-strip painting techniques to reflect on the legacy of the masters before him. Throughout the 1970s he undertook a series of works in which he blended his own unique style with the some of major movements in art history. The stylistic qualities of Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism and Constructivism all inspired canvases and, inspired by a visit in 1978 to the Robert Gore Rifkind Collection of German Expressionist graphic art in Los Angeles, he began to explore the work of the German Expressionists, echoing master Expressionists Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Eric Heckel and Alexey Jawlensky. Drawn to their bold lines and clean cut images, he filtered their ideas through his own aesthetic. In Deep in Thought, flatly applied colors and straight lines radiate out from the head in, as Lichtenstein synthesizes the Expressionists' influence with Pop Art's inherent mechanization.

Lichtenstein's interest in the German Expressionists follows from his American Indian inspired canvases of the 1950s. Attracted to the simple lines, Lichtenstein returned to these forms in the late 1970s. Like his earlier works, his Expressionist pieces portray heads, figures and animals in landscapes. Despair, the first painting in his new series, features an upturned face with an open mouth and is based on a 1917 woodcut by Emil Nolde and is Lichtenstein's only post-Pop rendering of excessive emotion. Other works from this period are muter, even expressionless. But Deep in Thought seems to buck this trend, making it unique in this period. Lichtenstein masterfully merges the intensity of the woman's thought process with the work's sheer expressive force.

Lichtenstein did not intend just to copy aesthetic forms from the world he saw around him. He had always been interested in artistic symbolism and how to convey meaning through the seemingly random act of applying paint to a surface. By breaking down these formal aspects in his early "cartoon" paintings, he isolated and replicated cartoons' ability to convey extremely complex dramatic situations through minimal visual means. He highlighted these visual conventions, in his 1970s "history paintings," by dissecting the visual symbols and representing them in his unique visual style. By placing familiar images in a radically different style he was able to highlight how these conventions worked. In Deep in Thought, Lichtenstein explores these conventions further, eschewing his signature Ben Day dots because he does not regard them as expressive enough. Instead he increases the striping and graining references from his earlier Surrealist series, making the heads sharper and more pronounced. He enhances this intensity, presenting the head in extreme close-up, thereby escalating the effect of hard-lined angularity, dark palette and strong contrasts of the black, blue and yellow.

German Expressionists revolutionized the artistic world using distorted forms, jagged edges and violent colors to generate a new artistic language. They reinvigorated timeless subjects, such as landscapes and the figure, with new meaning, reinterpreting both form and color. Throughout his oeuvre, Lichtenstein repeatedly challenged the boundaries of rigid art-historical traditions while maintaining his idiosyncratic worldview. Deep in Thought embodies Roy Lichtenstein's innovative artistic vision, combining an awareness of art history with a deliberate visual duality contrasting abstraction and realistic depiction.

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