A painting by The Beatles created in a Tokyo hotel room in 1966 fetched $1.7 million at Christie's in New York on Thursday, February 1. As the story goes, the four bandmates had been in Japan for four days and were locked in their hotel room after local authorities deemed it a safety concern for them to leave their room due to their popularity and the scenes of adulation they inspired that became dangerous.
Bored with nothing to do, The Beatles saw that they received a gift of top-quality art supplies and began painting. The result, an untitled work commonly known as Images of a Woman, 1966, was part of Christie’s Exceptional Sale, an annual auction which brings decorative arts together with items from pop culture and the sports world. The painting exceeded its original estimate, which was between $400,000 and $600,000. The buyer’s identity was not disclosed.
The work in question is separated into four quadrants, each representing one of The Beatles: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. In shades of reds, blacks, greens, and yellows, the painting has geometric and abstract, free-flowing forms, indicative of the bandmate’s individual styles. Never discussing their plans for the painting, it evolved naturally into this abstract composition.
The painting process was well-documented by the photographer . who traveled with The Beatles on the summer 1966 concert tour from West Germany, to Japan, the Philippines, and Alaska. In the hotel room, The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, arranged the four Beatles around a table and placed a lamp in the center. They began to paint, as a Whitaker photo suggests, from a palette of 21 compartments. Each took one quadrant and painted from the edge to the center. The group worked in oils and watercolors, and as Whitaker told the auction house, the “finished work was completed over two nights.”
The painting was first sold to Tetsusaburo Shimoyama in 1966. Shimoyama was at the time, the president of The Beatles fan club. He later sold the work to Takao Nishino, a record store owner, who then put it up for auction, where it was acquired by the current seller.
The painting, the only such artwork that The Beatles created together, according to the auction house, is a special part of the band’s history. In a release from the auction house, Whitaker said, “They'd stop [painting], go and do a concert, then it was ‘Let's go back to the picture!’" He added, "I never saw them calmer or more contented than at this time.”