Roy Lichtenstein

Nude Reading


On display at Tate Liverpool

Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Relief print on paper
Object: 778 x 922 mm
frame: 914 x 1065 x 46 mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection 2015
On long term loan


Nude Reading is a print depicting a naked woman with short hair sitting on a sofa and reading a book. She holds the book up to her face with her left hand such that it covers her mouth and nose. Her right hand is raised to touch the top of her head, and the black outline of this hand extends slightly above the upper edge of the print and into its white margin. The woman’s back rests against the armrest of the sofa and her left leg crosses over the right. Colour is used sparingly in the image: half of the book is pale pink, the sofa’s covering is pale yellow, and there are highlights of blue, green, yellow and red in the objects in the background, of which very little is visible. Large areas of the print, including the woman’s body and the back of the sofa, consist of white fields surrounded by thick black outlines and filled with black and dark blue dots. The dots vary in density to suggest light, shade and volume in the shapes that they define. In the lower right margin the work is signed, dated and numbered ‘AP 1/12’, indicating that it is the first in an edition of twelve artist’s proofs.

This print was made by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein in 1994. Lichtenstein took inspiration for Nude Reading from an image in issue 96 of the comic book Girls’ Romances, published by DC Comics in August 1963. In the original image the woman is clothed and the caption reads: ‘I had read about love…’. Lichtenstein made a graphite pencil sketch of the image and a study using tape and painted and printed paper on board (see Nude Reading (Study) 1993 and Collage for Nude Reading 1994, reproduced in Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, ‘Image Duplicator’, undated,, accessed 2 February 2016). He made the final version of Nude Reading using the technique of relief printing. For every colour in the work a separate block was cut, elevating the areas that were to be printed, and each inked block was carefully aligned and printed onto a single sheet of paper.

Lichtenstein continued to explore the theme of the female nude in the 1990s (see Two Nudes 1994, Tate AL00377, and Roommates 1994, Tate AL00376), but rather than using live models, the women were fictional and derived from comic books. The artist altered these found images to achieve greater compositional clarity, or as he called it, ‘unified form’, in 1963 stating that ‘the comics have shapes, but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified’ (quoted in Foster 2012, p.68). Lichtenstein had been using this method since the 1960s, when making other work that was based on comic books. His nudes from the 1990s are different from these earlier works not only because the female figures are unclothed, but also because of his use of colouring and shading. Lichtenstein had previously made extensive use of Benday dots to fill in his black-outlined forms. This technique, used in newspaper image printing, creates specific effects and colours depending on the dots’ density and level of overlap. In his nudes, however, the dots are not confined to these areas, and black and blue dots are superimposed over background and foreground at once, creating spatial distortions and flattening the picture plane. Lichtenstein achieved a similar effect in his water lilies series through the use of dots and stripes to represent the water’s reflective surface: see, for example, Water Lilies with Japanese Bridge 1992 (Tate AL00373) and Water Lily Pond with Reflections 1992 (Tate AL00374).

During the early 1990s Lichtenstein reflected on his earlier output in many of his paintings and prints. This is apparent in works such as Reflections on Crash 1990 (Tate AL00368), Reflections: Art 1988 (Tate AL00383) and Reflections on Brushstrokes 1990 (Tate P12128). The first two works refer to pieces he had made in the 1960s that were very similar or identical, and the Reflections on Brushstrokes series cites both the artist’s brief period of painting in an abstract expressionist style in the late 1950s (Lobel 2002, p.5) and his depiction of the brushstroke motif when he had moved on to pop art in the 1960s (see Brushstroke 1965, Tate P07354). In other works containing nudes from the 1990s his own paintings can be seen in the background (see, for example, Nude with Pyramid 1994, The Broad, Los Angeles). Through these works it becomes apparent that the artist was aware of his own place in the contemporary art world and in the history of art. Picturing these and other women from this period nude rather than clothed can be seen as another type of reflection: undated by clothing styles, these figure become part of a centuries-old tradition of the female nude in art. At the same time, the modernist furniture and decor in the background of Nude Reading makes this a contemporary version of a timeless subject.

Further reading
Michael Lobel, Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art, New Haven 2002.
Hal Foster, The First Pop Age, Princeton 2012.

Nina Romijn
The University of Edinburgh
February 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

You might like