Live Virtual Auction, 11 - 13 April 2021

Larry Rivers; Head of Molly
Lot 616

Lot Estimate
R 200 000 - 300 000
Current Bid
Starting at R 180 000 1 bid
Cape Town Office
Condition Report
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About this Item

Larry Rivers
American 1923-2002
Head of Molly
signed and dated '56
oil on canvas
45.5 by 59.5cm excluding frame; 48.5 by 62 by 3.5cm including frame


Born in the Bronx, NY., Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg changed his name when he was seventeen to Larry Rivers. Studying music at the prestigious Juilliard School where he befriended Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Rivers was a jazz saxophonist before he became a visual artist. Later however, he would come to be regarded as an enfant-terrible of the New York art scene whilst laying the foundations for America’s next great contribution to twentieth century modernism - Pop Art.

In the late 1940s Rivers trained under the abstract expressionist, Hans Hofmann, before making a radical about turn in the 1950s towards figuration. To date, Post-War American painting had largely been characterised by its departure from any traditional ‘representation’, with abstraction becoming the primary subject of the work driven by bold, loose, expressionist brushwork.

Rivers would abandon what he felt had become the conceptual orthodoxy of Abstract Expressionism practiced by his peers Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, reinstating the figure as a subject in his work. The present lot is an early example of this key historic moment where the perceptual field of modernism was once again blown open by Rivers’ experiments with a new set of representational possibilities.

Possibly a study for a larger work, The Four Mollys executed a year later in 1957, Head of Molly is an intimate portrait of his lover at the time. Fusing prosaic realism into an otherwise abstracted field, this period of Rivers’ work would declare of new era of painting where form and surface would no longer be the sole concern of a generation of artists constantly looking for ways to express the changing world around them.

Best understood as a transition between the two extremes of non-representational and figurative painting, Andy Warhol famously declared that “Larry’s painting style was unique – it wasn’t Abstract Expressionism and it wasn’t Pop, it fell into the period in between. But his personality was very Pop”.1

1.  2013 Larry Rivers Foundation,, accessed 1 March 2021.



Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

Art Lending Service of the Museum of Modern Art, inventory number LS-567-339.

Private Collection.

Joe Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town.

Property of a Collector.


The Hudson River Museum, New York, Art in Westchester from Private Collections, 24 September to 2 November 1969, catalogue number 122.

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