'Images of a Woman' - Beatles-Created Painting Up for Auction

The group painting the Beatles created in June 1966 while cooped up in their hotel room in Tokyo is up for bid, CNN reports.

The Beatles were in the middle of a tour that had them play five shows in just three days at Japan’s famed Nippon Budokan arena — but when they weren’t performing, they were holed up in the presidential suite of the Tokyo Hilton creating a work of art that came to be known as “Images of a Woman.”

That painting, believed by some experts to be the only artwork jointly made by all four Beatles (or at least signed by all four), will be up for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York on February 1.

“Images of a Woman” is estimated to fetch somewhere in the realm of $400,000 to $600,000 and “crystallizes a magic moment in Beatles history,” said Christie’s specialist Casey Rogers during a phone interview.

“It’s such a rarity to have a work on paper outside of their music catalog that is (a) physical relic, this tangible object with contributions from all four of The Beatles,” she said of the 21.5- by 31-inch painting.

“It’s memorabilia, it’s a work of art, it appeals to probably a much larger cross-section of collectors… It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling.”

...A visitor gifted them some art supplies, according to Christie’s press release; the band soon wound up around a table, with a blank sheet of Japanese art paper in the middle and a lamp roughly centered on top of it. Each Beatle sat at a corner, painting something different. Recordings for the album that would become “Revolver” played in the background.

Photographer Robert Whitaker, who was represented by the band’s manager Brian Epstein, was on hand to capture the group at work. “I never saw them calmer or more contented than at this time,” he observed, according to Christie’s release.

The Beatles were no strangers to visual art. Lennon attended art school and McCartney had studied the subject, too. Both George Harrison and Ringo Starr drew “often and with plenty of talent,” the Christie’s press release added.

Each corner of the painting reflects a personal touch, with plenty of variety in shapes, colors and even the paints used. Harrison’s portion, which uses darker and angrier-looking brush strokes, seems to sprawl out the most from his corner, while Starr’s area is smaller and cartoonish. Both Lennon and McCartney worked primarily in acrylic, Christie’s noted, while Harrison and Starr relied more on watercolor.

And then at the center, where the lamp once sat, are the signatures.

The Beatles never gave their painting an official title, but it became known as “Images of a Woman” in the late 1980s when “a Japanese journalist thought he could see female genitals in Paul’s quadrant,” according to Christie’s.

Here is the complete auction description prepared by Beatles biographer Mark Lewishon for  Christie's:

From these four ridiculously special young men came a body of creativity that is lasting forever and becoming ever more brilliant. They wrote iconic songs which they sang and played in revolutionary and absurdly huge-selling recordings, they played concerts and tours, they made full-length films and short films, they did TV and radio, they generated books, drawings and photos, and they changed the way people looked, dressed, thought and spoke, altering attitudes and brokering positive possibilities. They put their special stamp of quality over all things – and this includes a large colorful painting they made in a Tokyo hotel room, an untitled artwork that became known as Images Of A Woman.

The setting is Room 1005 of Tokyo’s Hilton Hotel, the Presidential Suite, an opulent and lavish jail for the Beatles for most of the 100 hours they spent in Japan from 29 June to 3 July 1966. For close on three years, they had evoked fantastic scenes of adulation everywhere they appeared, some of the situations downright dangerous. Japanese authorities decided to ensure their safety with a degree of pride which, in the Beatles’ minds, bordered on fanatical, every detail of their timetable tidied to the micro-minute. They were whisked between the hotel and the Budo Kan Hall, where they played five concerts, with ultra-crisp security, no risk being taken about absolutely anything at all.

Equally, every generous thought was given to making the Beatles feel comfortable and content in their luxurious hotel suite, so they’d have no hankering to go anywhere. Actually, they managed two great escapes. Paul slipped out for a fleeting early-morning peep at the Imperial Palace with Mal Evans and John ventured on to some nearby streets with Neil Aspinall. But really they stayed in the suite most of the 100 hours, and passed the time with little pain. The Beatles looked around for things to do and found them, and they received visitors, many of whom came bearing gifts - one bringing a top-quality set of art materials.

Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, was always smart. Among the other talented people he represented was a photographer, Robert Whitaker. With his insider status, Whitaker traveled with the Beatles through their summer 1966 concert tour that took in West Germany, Japan and the Philippines, with also an unscheduled typhoon-avoiding stop in Alaska. Whitaker’s vibrant color photos set the scene for the painting - the Beatles arranged in four chairs around a table, on which they laid out a substantial rectangular sheet of fine Japanese art paper. The chairs corresponded more or less with the four corners, and they placed a table lamp roughly in the center, both to weigh down the paper and light it. Working under the illuminated bulb, each man began to create from his corner and slowly work up towards the middle.

Another Whitaker photo shows a paint palette of 19 compartments, a tube of vermilion squished to spout its vivid redness. The bristles of a handsome new wooden-handled brush have been dipped in the pigment, perhaps for the first task to be done (likely a collective decision), giving the entire thing a red background wash. After that they worked in oils and watercolors, and Whitaker recalled that the finished work was completed over two nights. As the Beatles were eternally late to bed, this tells us that after playing their concerts at the Budo Kan, and being zipped back to their hotel with pin-sharp punctuality, they’d have reapplied themselves to their task. Whitaker said it: ‘They'd stop [painting], go and do a concert, then it was “Let's go back to the picture!”’ He also added: ‘I never saw them calmer or more contented than at this time.’

All four had artistic talent, inevitably. They were multi-instrumentalist musicians, singers, songwriters and all-time icons and they were strong at drawing. Though generally poor by choice at grammar school, John was top of the class in Art – after which he went to art school for three eventful years, and as a world-famous Beatle he’d published two books of idiosyncratic writing with lightning-fast caricatures. Paul was always a highly accomplished and inventive artist, easily capable of gaining an Art A-Level at the end of his two-year school course – he failed it only because he’d gone off on the Beatles’ first tour. (That’s how much he loved playing rock and roll.) George and Ringo both drew too -- often and with plenty of talent. George would always treasure a schoolbook which showed that when he should have been paying attention to teachers he was filling page after page with elaborate sketches of guitars.

Although born left-handed, Ringo’s orientation had been shifted in his infancy by his superstitious paternal grandmother, who believed that being southpaw was the work of the devil. When drumming, Ringo led with his left but played a right-handed kit. He wrote right-handed and, we can see from the Tokyo photos, painted with his right too. We see also how John worked with his eyes close to the paper. Ever short-sighted, he was almost certainly wearing contact lenses here but still had the habit of myopically scrutinizing whatever he was reading, writing or drawing. George is focused and concentrating on getting a line right. Paul, left-handed (and so definitively disproving Ringo’s superstitious grin), is painting a black line while holding a lit cigarette between the fingers of his right hand.

Mingling with the scent of paint, the smell of this painting is Virginia tobacco. Almost everyone smoked in those days, and certainly the Beatles and their entourage of seven. Their collectively favored cigarette in this period was Lark, an American brand, and Whitaker’s palette photo captures one of the red packets. ‘Ciggies’ would have been smoked pretty much chain-like at the table … and then there was the recreational smoking they did in the suite’s opulent bathroom with a wet towel kicked to the door to stop the smell getting out. Almost every rock band has had their most intimate moments of togetherness in a discreetly shared joint, the Beatles certainly included.

One way of looking at the table shows them seated in the world-beloved order of John, Paul, George, Ringo. (Then again, looked at from another angle, it was different). They’re wearing open-neck shirts, no ties, George with a light sweater over his. There are refreshments, glasses of tomato juice likely with vodka inside, and of course they painted to music. Their own music, because they’d only just completed their latest album (the sixth in nearly four years) on the eve of leaving London for this inter-continental tour. The labels of the 12-inch Emidisc acetate they played, cut at Abbey Road in those last hours, said 23 VI 66 – The Beatles – 33 1⁄3rpm MONO, since when, while in Germany, they’d decided its title should be Revolver. So the sound of this painting (among much else no doubt) is the dazzling aural kaleidoscope that took in Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine, For No One, And Your Bird Can Sing, I'm Only Sleeping and Tomorrow Never Knows, to name but seven of its fourteen gems. The Beatles heard it here as a finished album a month before the world would lay its first loving hand on it.

‘They never discussed what they were painting,’ Whitaker would recall. ‘It evolved naturally.’ Definitively untitled in its moment, the work acquired the name Images Of A Woman in the late-1980s after a Japanese journalist thought he could see female genitals in Paul’s quadrant. But who knows what Paul really painted – probably not even him. There are no particular figures anywhere: each of the four has created and filled-in spaces varied in every detail and color, not representative of much beyond freeform patterns, almost as if a spoken intent was to leave nothing recognizable. There are shapes of things, squiggles, blobs, circles, squares, protrusions and intrusions. By colors alone John’s work vaguely suggests Spain, but one should draw no conclusion from this. John and Paul have used the most black, working mostly in acrylic, George and Ringo seem mostly to have used watercolors, but one imagines them all swapping paints around, ‘Gis a go with yer oils.’ George’s work is the most expansive – he reaches from his corner of the paper to the lamp in the middle and breaks into the neighboring area, where Ringo’s smaller work has a cartoony bent, as if he might have had a firm-ish idea before obscuring it. Overall, the effect is typical of the Beatles: the combination is positive, not negative; it’s bright, vivid, alive.

The work done, they removed the table lamp, the base of which had left a large white circle near the middle, and here each of them signed his name, adjacent to his art. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr – the four most recognizable signatures of modern times, the four men whose ideas, talent and courage had completely changed the face and shape of popular music and youth culture for the better, and whose creativity really would go on to be timeless.

And having painted and signed their work, they gave it away, very happily and probably without a second thought, to the official Beatles Fan Club in Japan. Among the visitors they welcomed into their suite was club president and a translator, and photos show the Beatles easily comfortable with them. Almost always cordial, and with practically none of the pretensions routinely practiced by stars, the Beatles were happy to receive visitors and had scores of similarly positive encounters down the years. Once the painting had dried there are shots of it being handed over; they gave away their art unconcerned that it might one day be treasured as an exceptional souvenir not only of their time here in Tokyo but of all their brilliant years together.

Within sixty days of the paint drying, the Beatles had endured multiple unpleasant times in the Philippines and the USA, as a result of which – and with an accumulation of road experiences over many long years – they decided to give up the live stage. But though touring could be tiresome and annoying, its thrills shaded by the tedium of travelling and waiting around, it gave the Beatles a simultaneous unity they didn’t have when they stopped – and this would cause a sea-change in their chemistry. The very act of being together in hotel suites gave them a priceless proximity to one another’s ideas and attitudes – and this Tokyo painting is the proof of it.

Pictures by Robert Whitaker and other visiting photographers show us that further art pieces were also made here. There was paper, paints and time, so of course they did other things as well, and it’s to be hoped that further, smaller treasures might turn up. But whether or not they do, the so-called Images Of A Woman is the only known substantial piece of art made by the four Beatles in their years together – an extraordinary and unique item that has the best of provenance.

Christie's would like to thank Beatles historian, Mark Lewisohn, for his contribution and expertise in preparing this lot note. Mr. Lewisohn is presently writing the second volume in his trilogy The Beatles: All These Years; the first volume is Tune In. He has worked on many projects for Paul McCartney and the Beatles’ Apple companies.