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Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION 
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Sweet Dreams, Baby! (Study)

Details
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Sweet Dreams, Baby! (Study)
signed with the artist's initials 'rfl' (lower right)
graphite and coloured pencils on paper
5½ x 5in. (14 x 12.6cm.)
Executed in 1964-1965
Provenance
Holly and Horace Solomon Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist).
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 6 May 1992, lot 306.
Marc Blondeau, Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in June 1992.
Literature
D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein Drawings and Prints, New York 1969, no. 65-20 (illustrated, p. 167).
Exhibited
New York, James Goodman Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: A Drawing Retrospective, 1984, no. 12 (illustrated, unpaged).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, 1987, no. 58 (illustrated, p. 74).

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Alice de Roquemaurel

Lot Essay

'I was very excited about and interested in the highly emotional content yet detached, impersonal handling of love, hate, war etc., in these cartoon images...It is an intensification, a stylistic intensification of the excitement which the subject matter has for me; but the style is, as you say, cool. One of the things a cartoon does is to express violent emotion and passion in a completely mechanical and removed style' (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in interview with G.R. Swenson, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1968, p. 9).



'[Lichtenstein's drawings] document the consistency of Lichtensteins style and his development, year by year, almost image by image. The studies also function satisfactorily as miniature drawings in their own right' (B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 29).



One of only two studies for this iconic Pop image, the other being an ink drawing, Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) occupies a central position in the evolution of Pop Art. A unique dynamic drawing, an explosive blast captures a moment of action, the word WHAM bursting forth. The brilliant yellow starburst imparts the thundering impact of a punch, its delivery striking out the man in the foreground. A laconic, noir-ish comment at odds with the inherent physicality of the image is contained in a speech bubble: 'Sweet dreams baby!'. A study for one of the artist's most iconic images, the powerful blow captured in Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) relates to Lichtenstein's celebrated war-themed, gung-ho images of soldiers and fighter pilots which typified the period when it was created in 1964-1965. Indeed, the emblazoned 'WHAM' recalls another of Lichtenstein's works from the previous year, Whaam!, his 1963 masterpiece which shows a fighter launching a missile at an exploding plane. Whaam!, as well as a related drawing, are now in the collection of Tate, London, who will play host to the artist's highly anticipated retrospective opening this month.

Created over the years of 1964 and 1965, Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) dates from the very heyday of Pop. Extending beyond Warhol's appropriated Batman and Dick Tracy paintings of the early 1960s, Lichtenstein's idiosyncratic reworking of comic strips marked a seachange in art world attitudes whose ramifications are still felt to this day. This image and its wry tagline are a far cry from the Abstract Expressionism that had so recently dominated the New York art scene. Looking at Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study), the emphatic figuration based so clearly on print media, suggests a deliberate assault on the gestural abstraction espoused by generations of American artists, as well as the machismo of the Action Painters.

The glorification of the cartoon image as an almost mechanical cipher for feeling appears as a direct attack on Abstract Expressionism. Lichtenstein remains wry and inscrutable, mimicking the visual idiom of commercial art in order to create an image which has undeniable drama. As the artist himself stated, 'I was very excited about and interested in the highly emotional content yet detached, impersonal handling of love, hate, war etc., in these cartoon images...It is an intensification, a stylistic intensification of the excitement which the subject matter has for me; but the style is, as you say, cool. One of the things a cartoon does is to express violent emotion and passion in a completely mechanical and removed style' (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in interview with G.R. Swenson, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1968, p. 9). In Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study), the violent act being knocked into unconsciousness, suggests that it is the Pop Artists emphatically bidding 'Sweet Dreams, Baby' to their Abstract Expressionist forebears.

This hand-coloured drawing, which has featured in several of the lifetime publications and exhibitions, dedicated to Lichtenstein's works on paper, including his major drawings retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1987. Once owned by the 'Pop Princess' Holly Solomon, who sponsored a number of artists both then and later, the notable patron would later be the subject of one of Lichtenstein's few portraits from 1966, I... I'm Sorry, later acquired by Eli Broad.

A highly finished drawing, there are a number of key unique features which distinguish Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) from the work Sweet Dreams Baby! created in 1965. Be it in the substitution of the word POW! for the WHAM or the radical inverse of the colours, with the background shifting from blue to yellow, or the distinct shading of the man's jacket, there are a number of factors that mean that it stands alone as a finished work of art as well as a stepping stone towards a final composition. Indeed, even the format of the image would change, becoming narrower than the more square composition here. As Bernice Rose, curator of Lichtenstein's Drawing retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, suggests, 'Lichtenstein's studies also function satisfactorily as miniature drawings in their own right' (B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 29).

Where Lichtenstein's paintings tend to feature a controlled coolness in lines and dots that echo stencilling, in Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study), his own frenetic pencil marks can be seen in the vigorous hatching and in the colouring of the background, adding to the expressionistic drama of the scene while also providing an insight into the artist's working process. 'Lichtenstein's drawings provide first hand evidence of Lichtenstein's artistic process-a process that helped to re-write the established rules of painting that had gone unchallenged for centuries: 'They document the consistency of Lichtenstein's style and his development, year by year, almost image by image' (B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 29).

Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study)
is a dynamic assemblage from a number of sources, each of them evolving towards the finished result. Lichtenstein explained that his drawings marked a crucial first step in the creation of his paintings. Within this medium, he had the freedom to transform the found image which he had adopted, for instance those from Our Fighting Forces, an action comic book, which would ultimately be included in Sweet Dreams Baby! and which was used as inspiration for a number of his iconic war-related masterpieces. It was in his drawings such as Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) that his creativity was truly engaged. 'I don't draw a picture in order to reproduce it,' he explained. 'I do it in order to recompose it' (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Coplans 'Roy Lichtenstein: an interview', Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., London, 1968, p. 11). In his drawings, Lichtenstein could transform and design his compositions; they underpinned his paintings. At the same time, those paintings were often intrinsically linked to drawing as a process. After all, by projecting his drawings onto canvases and scaling them up, he was immortalising the pencil lines, magnifying and solidifying them in order that they would adopt the thick, print-like form of his larger-scale works. This intrinsic link between the appearance of his drawings and his paintings was observed by Diane Waldman in her monograph, Roy Lichtenstein: Drawings and Prints, in which Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) featured: 'He obviously relished the possibility of making a specific reference to 'drawing' as a unique concept within the larger concept of art' (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein: Drawings and Prints, New York, 1970, p. 16).

Lichtenstein was attracted to the images from comics and commercial art in part because of their incredible immediacy. They had been created by artists who were trained to make their images irresistibly readable and indeed attractive. Lichtenstein appropriated that visual language and its innate accessibility, creating pictures such as Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) which demand our attention and force us to read and interpret them. Lichtenstein was in part using the ephemeral culture of the world around him as a readymade, as a reference point, an entertaining pretext for his exploration and deconstruction of the way that people create and see pictures. As he explained: 'I am nominally copying, but I am really restating the copied thing in other terms... It seems to be antiart, but I don't think of it that way' (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in L. Alloway, Lichtenstein, New York, 1999, p. 106). This is clear in Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) in the way that the action has been described with an unlikely explosion and the superimposed word, WHAM; it is also clear in the crisp, minimal lines with which he has rendered the fist and face themselves. Looked at out of context, it is hard to believe that this starkly reduced visual language could so eloquently convey the complexities of the scene. Be it in the lines and the deliberately limited palette of Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study), with its red, yellow and blue, Lichtenstein has condensed this image from a comic strip into something that is archetypal in its readability: 'The hair, the eyes, whatever it is, have to be symbols which - it's sort of funny to say this - are eternal in this way. In realising of course that they're not eternal. But they will have this power of being the way to draw something' (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, p. 227). Through this artistic transformation and through its legacy as a picture from the explosive climax of Pop Art, Sweet Dreams Baby! (Study) marks the apotheosis of a comic strip image, a transient shard of popular culture, into the realm of the historical and indeed the eternal.

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