Stuck in a Tokyo Hotel, the Beatles Divided a Canvas Into Quarters and Started Painting

“Images of a Woman,” signed by all four members of the band, could fetch as much as $600,000 at auction

Images of a Woman
Each of the four Beatles painted a corner of Images of a Woman (1966). Christie's

Next month, Christie’s will auction a painting created and signed by four legendary artists: Paul McCartneyGeorge HarrisonRingo Starr and John Lennon.

The piece, known as Images of a Woman, is one of the only known artworks that all four Beatles created and signed together, though they divided the painting into four sections and worked independently. It’s expected to sell for between $400,000 and $600,000.

“Each corner of the painting reflects a personal touch, with plenty of variety in shapes, colors and even the paints used,” writes CNN’s Radhika Marya. “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.”

In 1966, the Beatles were scheduled to play five shows in three days at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan arena. Due to security concerns, they rarely had the chance to leave their hotel, according to the lot listing. While many fans came out to see them play, their presence was controversial. The arena’s primary purpose was martial arts, and protesters didn’t think it was appropriate for a Western band to play there.

During their 100 hours in Japan, the musicians spent a lot of time stuck in the presidential suite of the Tokyo Hilton. However, they did receive visitors, and one guest brought a set of art supplies as a gift.

“They had about three days in which they really couldn’t go anywhere,” Edward Lewine, a Christie’s spokesperson, tells Barron’s Joe Dziemianowicz. “And they created this work of art.”

As the story goes, the group placed a piece of fine Japanese art paper on a table. After positioning a lamp in the middle of the canvas, each Beatle chose a corner, sat down and began painting.

Photographer Robert Whitaker, who was also represented by Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, was present and photographed the group at work. “They’d stop [painting], go and do a concert, then it was, ‘Let’s go back to the picture!’” Whitaker tells Christie’s. “I never saw them calmer or more contented than at this time.”

While the band worked on the painting, they listened to recordings from their upcoming album, Revolver. “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,’” writes the auction house in the lot essay.

After the Beatles finished painting, they removed the lamp from the center of the canvas, signed their names in the unfinished circle and gave the piece to the official Beatles Fan Club in Japan. For years, the piece went untitled. “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,” writes Christie’s. “But who knows what Paul really painted—probably not even him.”

The Beatles created Images of a Woman at a significant period for the band—just months before ending their last major tour.

“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,” Christie’s specialist Casey Rogers tells CNN. “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.”

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