In the early 1960s, shortly after appropriating comic imagery in his paintings, Lichtenstein decided to re-create several works by artists of the past. In Man with Folded Arms 1962, for instance, he painted Paul Cézanne’s renowned Homme aux bras croisés 1899. Although some critics queried the artistic status of Lichtenstein’s early Pop works because they did not embody the principle of ‘transformation’, today it seems obvious to us that his black-and-white ‘Cézanne’ has little to do with the original painting. What Lichtenstein was quoting, in fact, was not the painting itself, but its cheap and schematic reproduction as found in art history manuals.
Throughout his career, Lichtenstein engaged with several previous artistic styles, such as impressionism, futurism and German expressionism, or reformulated the paintings of artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian. When you visit the exhibition at Tate Modern, in Room 7 you will find Lichtenstein’s Non-Objective 1 1964 – which mimics Mondrian’s neo-plastic style – as well as Femme d’Alger 1963, in which the artist translated Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger 1955 into the Pop idiom.
In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition I have written an essay on Lichtenstein’s fascinating dialogue with Picasso. He regarded the Spanish master as the greatest artist of the 20th century: “I think he had just more magic, more insanity, more images, more styles, greater production than many others”, Lichtenstein remarked. In Reflections on ‘Interior with Girl Drawing’ 1990 – also in Room 7 of our exhibition – he re-created Picasso’s Deux Femmes 1935 as a framed painting under glass that produces reflections. This is one of Lichtenstein’s late masterpieces and is a perfect example of his ironic exercises on painting about painting.