02/13/2013 08:30 am ET

Who Opposed A £4,665 Lichtenstein?

When the Tate bought Lichtenstein's Whaam!, in 1966, the acquisition was condemned by some of the gallery's trustees for being too avant-garde--and expensive. Documents in the Tate's archives reveal that the purchase of Whaam!, 1963--the star of a touring retrospective that opens at Tate Modern on 21 February (until 27 May)--almost did not happen because of opposition from artist-trustees.

The story began in June 1966, when Richard Morphet, then an assistant keeper at the Tate, began negotiating to buy Whaam! with Ileana Sonnabend's gallery in Paris, which worked with Leo Castelli, Lichtenstein's New York dealer. Sonnabend quoted a market price of £5,382, but offered it to the Tate for £4,665. (In 1966, the average male salary was around £1,300 a year.) When Whaam! arrived in London for viewing, Morphet could hardly have been more enthusiastic. "We are very thrilled to see it. It is even better than I expected and I shall be bitterly disappointed if we fail to acquire it," he told Sonnabend.

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