Bonhams will offer Mel Ramos' iconic painting The Trickster as the main draw in its Contemporary Art auction on May 14 in New York.
The piece, which hails from Ramos' most notable period, holds an estimate of $500,000-700,000. It is part of a larger series of Ramos' superhero-themed works that portray the iconography of American life.
Ramos was one of the first artists, under the guidance of Ivan Karp at the Castelli Gallery, to popularise what has now become known as pop art. As described by Bonhams, his work is "replete with comics, cartoons and superheroes" which, together with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, "elevated the commercial image in a way that would come to define the genre."
The Trickster was inspired by the 1960s DC Comics super-villain of the same name, who starred as the arch nemesis of The Flash. A classic example of Ramos' work from the period, it shares a similar "California-inspired" palette to that of Wayne Thiebaud, who served as the artist's mentor.
"All of Ramos' superheroes and heroines from this legendary period are important, but super-villain paintings such as The Trickster are quite rare as Ramos painted far fewer of them," said Bonhams' Jeremy Goldsmith, director of contemporary art in New York.
"The exceptional provenance and powerful composition of this piece are sure to appeal to the most sophisticated contemporary art collectors, in addition to individuals and institutions focused on pop art specifically."
The piece was bought directly from the artist shortly after its creation in 1962, and has remained in a private Sacramento collection since. It recently featured in the Crocker Art Museum's retrospective, Mel Ramos: Fifty Years of Superheroes, Nudes and Other Pop Delights.
The current record for Ramos' work stands at £1.1m ($1.7m), after his A.C. Annie (1971) was sold from the Gunter Sachs collection at Sotheby's in May 2012.
Sotheby's saw more contemporary art sales yesterday (February 12), as Francis Bacon's Three Studies for Self-Portrait headlined in London. Sign up to our free weekly newsletter to keep up with the latest from the art collecting community.