In parallel to his work inspired by the contemporary visual culture of comic books and advertising, Lichtenstein began an ongoing dialogue with the artists of the past. Whether through appropriation, stylisation or parody, these singular works engage with art historical styles, such as impressionism, futurism and surrealism, or target the paintings of artists like Picasso, Matisse and Piet Mondrian. As a group, they result in vivid recreations that herald Lichtenstein’s ultimate subject: art about art.
In some cases, Lichtenstein appropriated a landmark painting such as Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware 1851 or Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series 1892–4 and rephrased the original work in his own visual language. In others, he worked with the stylistic conventions of a movement or a genre, such as the still life or Native American motifs, to create original compositions.
Lichtenstein, who emphatically stated that ‘the things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire’, regarded Picasso as the ‘greatest artist of the 20th century’ and openly acknowledged how much he had learned from him. In Femme d’Alger 1963 Lichtenstein translated Picasso’s Women of Algiers 1955 (itself based on an 1834 painting by Eugène Delacroix) into the pop idiom, transforming a high-art painting ‘into another high-art medium that pretends to be low art.’