Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
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Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Red Barn I

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Red Barn I
signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '69' (on the reverse)
oil and Magna on canvas
30 x 44 in. (76.2 x 111.8 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Private collection, Binningen, Switzerland
Anon. sale; Christie’s, New York, 14 May 2002, lot 12
Private collection, Japan
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 9 November 2004, lot 17
Barbara Annis Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Roy Lichtenstein, June-September 1973, n.p. (illustrated).
Pully, Lausanne, FAE Musée d'art Contemporain, Roy Lichtenstein, September 1992-January 1993, pp. 61 and 124 (illustrated).
Tate Liverpool, Roy Lichtenstein, February-April 1993, pp. 37 and 52, no. 16 (illustrated).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Roy Lichtenstein, May-September 1998.

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Lot Essay

Red Barn I, Roy Lichtenstein’s vibrant rendition of the bucolic American countryside, contains all the hallmarks of his iconic early Pop practice, namely strong colors, bold outlines, Ben-day dots and the distinctive diagonal hatching that signified his iconic visual style. One of a series of three artworks that features similar imagery, including Red Barn (screenprint on paper) and Red Barn II (oil and Magna on canvas, Museum Ludwig, Cologne), the present work belongs to a body of work that first emerged out of his classic Cartoon paintings. By using the backgrounds that he had excluded from his earlier works, the artist opened himself up to a dialogue with one of the most traditional genres in art history. In no other painting was Lichtenstein as innovative as he was in his paintings of landscapes, as the artist conveyed the indeterminate essence of light and form, or stylized versions thereof, through his own distinctive visual language, creating the impression of a landscape in a remarkably economical manner.

Nestled in the lush countryside, the red barn is a striking addition to the landscape. With its dramatic coloring, sharply pitched roof, and towering silo, it cuts a dramatic silhouette against the verdant forms that surround it. Lichtenstein enhances the presence of the barn by his dramatic use of color and shadow. Flat planes of fire engine red denote the front of the main structure, its adjacent outbuilding and the silo. These facades are unembellished with any architectural details, except for the dark recesses of an open doorway, and the partial outline of a window and another door. The artist then adds dimensionality by painting the sides of the buildings mired in dark shadow. These pitch-black facades are, again, uninterrupted, except for the insertion of a small window emitting a blue light. The slope of the roof is rendered in a black and white diagonal hatching to indicate a further planar perspective to the building. That the artist is able to construct a recognizable image of just three simple planes demonstrates Lichtenstein’s in-depth knowledge of how we look at and decode images. Lichtenstein’s interest in decoding images dates from the very earliest days of his career, and relates directly to Red Barn I as the source images is taken from the book How to Draw and Paint by Henry Gasser. Gasser was an artist who taught classes at the Art Students League in New York (where Lichtenstein was a student in 1939). It’s not known whether Lichtenstein took any of Gasser’s classes, but the technique of a later teacher, Hoyt Sherman, would have a great effect on Lichtenstein.

Much of the artist’s thinking was developed under Sherman’s tutelage at Ohio State University in the 1940s. In his influential book Drawing by Seeing, Sherman espoused a new approach to conveying narrative, “Students must develop an ability to see familiar objects in terms of visual qualities,” he wrote, “and they must develop this ability to the degree that old associations with such objects will have only a secondary or a submerged role during the seeing-and-drawing act” (H. L. Sherman, quoted by B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 29). This theory was reinforced by Sherman’s use of what he called his ‘flash room’ – a darkened room where images of objects were briefly flashed onto a screen for the students to copy. Teaching drawing and painting in this manner proved to be extremely influential on Lichtenstein as it forced him to focus his attention on the most important visual aspects of the object's structure, and not to become distracted by extraneous matters such as unnecessary decoration.

This influence can clearly be seen in the forms of Red Barn I—in the building’s simplified façade, in the silhouettes of the trees, and the outlines of the clouds. The painting’s distinctive visual style puts it at the very heart of the artist’s Pop legacy. Its unique iconography was double-edged, appearing naive to an unsuspecting public, but actually highly sophisticated. His undercutting of illusionism is typical of American art of the Sixties, both abstract and Pop. Lichtenstein's adoption of the subliminal abstraction of the dots, lines, and stripes used to depict objects in comics and in cheap advertisements was one of his many deadpan disguises. The choice of his images as well as his simplified reductive style served to obscure his actual intentions in a way that made the paintings both accessible to the general public and irritating to experts who viewed him as a philistine. 

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