Through an unlikely series of events, which took place in Tucson, Arizona in approximately 2011, I discovered one of Roy Lichtenstein’s previously unknown drawings — Man with Chest Expander (1961). It was illustrated in a sketchbook that belonged to the artist Stanley Landsman. The drawing, depicting a man with an exercise device, resembled one of those ads that appeared on the back of comic books. I offered it to Jack Cowart, the director of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, who bought it for their study collection. The drawing now resides at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Our involvement with Lichtenstein stretches back to the 1980s, when my San Francisco gallery Acme Art exhibited the Art Deco gem Modern Painting (1967), and sold it to the Southland Corporation in Dallas. I also placed the Pop landscape, Sunset (1964), with an important Boston collection. But the highlight of working with Lichtenstein’s art was collaborating with Mitchell-Innes & Nash to facilitate the sale of his largest outdoor sculpture, Five Brushstrokes (1984). Thanks in part to a partial donation from Dorothy Lichtenstein, the twenty-four-foot painted aluminum work now graces the front of the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Roy Lichtenstein ranks as one of the most significant artists of the Twentieth Century. But it wasn’t always that way. Early on, his radical “comic book” style imagery left the artist wide open to criticism. In January, 1964, Life magazine ran an article on Lichtenstein, titled, “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” Since then, his market has been on a steady upward trajectory. If asked to pick three artists who offer the most stable investments in fine art, I would select Lichtenstein, along with Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder. In 2017, the collector Agnes Gund sold the famous Lichtenstein painting, Masterpiece (1962), for a numbing $165 million.
The Lichtenstein Market
One mark of Lichtenstein’s greatness is his consistency. Ivan Karp, the director of the Leo Castelli Gallery, and the man who discovered Lichtenstein, was quoted as saying that he had the highest “batting average” of any major artist. Besides his ground-breaking Comic Strip and Advertising images, his successful bodies of work — many of which either commented on art history or resurrected an existing category — include: the War pictures, Brushstrokes, Women, Landscapes, Art Deco and Modern paintings, Still Lifes, Entablatures, Interiors, and Reflections. But his most underrated body of work is arguably the Mirrors, which brilliantly synthesized reflective surfaces.
Richard Polsky Art Authentication got involved with authenticating Roy Lichtenstein’s work when the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation ceased validating his oeuvre in 2012. While our focus has been on his paintings and prints, the majority of fakes that we come across fall into the category of works on paper. Though the paintings are well-documented in the Roy Lichtenstein Catalogue Raisonné, many drawings and preliminary sketches fell between the cracks. As a result, a fair number of both genuine and fake drawings turn up on a regular basis. The paintings that we see tend to come from Lichtenstein’s classic 1960s Pop period; Comic Strip paintings are the most common fakes.