An American painter and photographer, Richard Prince is best-known for his appropriation work that has caused a lot of controversies since the line between appropriation and stealing is blurry. Emerging to prominence with his tongue-in cheek appropriation imagery involving popular advertisements that were rephotographed and cropped, Richard Prince paintings and photographs served to accentuate the powerful impact of mass media on shaping the consumer culture. Prince recalls of the publicity images: ‘They were like these authorless pictures, too good to be true, art-directed and over-determined and pretty much like film stills, psychologically hyped-up and having nothing to do with the way art pictures were traditionally 'put' together’. The appropriation came to characterize his practice throughout his entire career. As a passionate collector of art, books, manuscripts, and various odd objects, he is considered as a chronicler of his generation. ‘I don’t see any difference now between what I collect and what I make. It’s become the same. What I’m collecting will, a lot of times, end up in my work’, said Prince on his collecting processes.
Throughout his practice, Prince has always investigated the forgotten and outmoded narratives that have defined the way we perceive ourselves, from pulp fiction to fashion magazines, to provoke the stereotypes that pervade concepts of sexuality, desire, and control. He is obsessed with subculture and he often incorporates it into his work. The Nurse Paintings is one of his famed series inspired by pop culture. Taken from the artist’s own extensive collection of the 1950s and 1960s pulp romance novels, he has used the cover imagery to create a unique body of work. He has scanned the covers of these novels and then used the inkjet printing to transfer the pictures to canvases. The images were later stylized with acrylic paint. Twisting and fetishizing notions of nurturing, servitude and caregiving, Prince used these images of young, female nurses to create works blending highbrow and lowbrow art. Prince enhanced and energized these originally dull images and placed them in completely new contexts. These works were first exhibited at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York. Despite initial mixed reviews, the painting Overseas Nurse from 2002 broke all records when it was sold for $8,452,000.
Today, paintings from this series are among the priciest Richard Prince paintings sold at auctions. Let’s proceed to our list.
The source image for the work Millionaire Nurse from 2008 was the cover of the 1965 novel by Katherine Forman. The image was first scanned and then enlarged and transferred onto canvas using an ink jet prints. The artist has left the anonymous facture that was the hallmark of his earlier oeuvre. The background of the canvas is lavished with the painterly style associated with his famed Abstract Expressionist forebears. The narrative of the book’s cover was radically changed and a completely new image was created. Much of the book cover was erased, and her radiant smile was covered with a white field resembling a mask. This painting was sold in May 2008 at Sotheby’s New York for $4,745,000.
The painting Dude Ranch Nurse #2 from 2008 is an early example from the series. Taken from the cover of the book by Arlene Hale, the image was enlarged to the monumental scale. The image depicts a moment of climax or crisis, yet much of the original image was erased and the protagonist was left in the ambiguous space. The painting emphasizes the vintage feel of the cover, but it also provides a stage for Prince’s own powerfully gestural expression. As Prince stated himself, of all the early paintings from the series, this one ‘is probably one of the top three’ . This painting was first sold in May 2007 at Sotheby’s New York for $2,504,000, but just one year later it was sold at Christie’s London for $5,494,420.
The painting Nurse on Trial from 2005 combines the sinister with the seductive. Here, Prince plays with the stereotypical image of the nurse within the popular imagination. Retaining much of the original graphic, Prince emphasizes the threatening title rendering the composition in a particular painterly style. He has removed all the superfluous characters and text from the design, placing the subject against a dark green background. The painting portrays the action-based style and emotive resonance found in Abstract expressionist works, but also the graphic allure of the vintage paperback. This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in November 2014 for $5,765,000.
To create Piney Woods Nurse in 2002, Prince departed with his earlier process of using photographs and stenciling. This is the first time he has used the ink jet to transfer the image onto the canvas. Prince is here primarily focused on painting this drippy painterly style explores Abstract Expressionism’s techniques. The subject is in the foreground of the painting placed against a darkened red background. There are strong erotic undertones such as the covered mouth, shapely hips and gorgeous face that combines pleasure and surprise. This piece was sold in November 2007 at Christie’s New York for $6,089,000.
The painting Nurse In Hollywood #4 from 2004 is the most important painting from the Nurses series and also among the most glamorous, direct and stunning ones. Based on the 1965 Jane Converse novel, the protagonist in the painting embodies both the pure nurse ready to fill her professional duties and the undone vamps ready for her fantasized role. Prince has erased the male suitor behind her making her the most important protagonist of the narrative leaving the viewer alone with her. The painting is characterized by lush strokes and drips of paint ranging in colour. This painting was sold at Phillips New York in May 2010 for $6,466,500.
In the painting Runaway Nurse from 2006, Prince liberates the character of the nurse from notions of forbidden or restrained sexuality. This subject embodies the American drive to realize one’s own potential of self-discovery. Depicted to reflect desire and wickedness, she stands erotically in the forefront of the painting. This seminal work proves that Prince is the leading manipulator of social and cultural symbols. This piece was sold in November 2011 at Phillips New York for $6,802,500.
The piece Man-Crazy Nurse # 2 from 2002 is another piece that was transferred onto the canvas by ink jet printer and then altered. It is characterized by drips of pain and gestural strokes of Abstract Expressionism. The majority of the original imagery was erased and the subject is placed against the background of different purple tones. The white field that resembles the mask was added afterwards. Red pigments were added to emphasize the threatening narrative. This piece was sold in May 2008 at Christie’s New York for $7,433,000.
The painting Nurse Of Greenmeadow from 2002 is characterized by thoroughly over-painted canvas and heavily gestured brushstrokes. He plays with the heritage of Abstract Expressionism and action painting. The painting is imbued with strange violence with paint dripping down the surface. Here, he playfully conflicts Abstract Expressionism with lowbrow sensationalism of the vintage romance novels. This piece was sold in May 2014 at Christie’s New York for $8,565,000.
The painting Overseas Nurse from 2002 is one of the largest works in the series, but also one of the very best. It is characterized by the garish, drippy palette and a seductive protagonist. The subject is placed against a brushy colour field radiating fuchsia light giving a sultry feel. This painting was in the original group that was sold-out after it was presented at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York. This painting was sold in July 2008 at Sotheby’s London for $8,459,600.
This is a different version of the painting Runaway Nurse. The subject here screams of sexuality and it stands for the American drive of self-discovery. In this version, the seductive protagonist is placed against the dark colour field and it seems to be hovering in nothingness. The majority of the original imagery is erased except from the protagonist and a part of the bed she leans on emphasizing the eroticism of the painting. This piece was sold in May 2016 at Christie’s New York for an amazing $9,685,000.