Roy Lichtenstein



In Tate Modern
Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Acrylic paint and oil paint on canvas
Support: 1727 x 4064 mm
frame: 1747 x 4084 x 60 mm
Purchased 1966

Display caption

Whaam! is based on an image published in 1962 in the DC comic, All American Men of War. Lichtenstein often drew on commercial art sources such as comics and advertisements. He was interested how they depict highly emotional subject matter relating to love or war in a cool, impersonal way.

Gallery label, August 2018

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Catalogue entry

Roy Lichtenstein born 1923 [- 1997]

T00897 Whaam! 1963

Inscribed on back of left-hand canvas 'rf Lichtenstein | '63' and 'LEFT | PANEL'; on back of right-hand canvas 'rf Lichtenstein | '63' and 'RIGHT | PANEL'; 'WHAAM! | MAGNA & OIL' on both stretchers
Magna acrylic and oil on canvas, 68 x 160 (172.7 x 406.4), (two canvases each 68 x 80 (172.7 x 203.2))
Purchased from Leo Castelli, Inc., New York, through the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris (Grant-in-Aid) 1966
Exh: Roy Lichtenstein, Leo Castelli, New York, September-October 1963 (no catalogue); Mixed Media and Pop Art, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, November-December 1963 (60); Salon de Mai, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, May-June 1964 (102, repr.); Nieuwe Realisten, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, June-August 1964 (95, repr.); POP etc., Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, September-October 1964 (84, repr.); Neue Realisten und Pop Art, Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, November 1964-January 1965 (65); Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme etc. ..., Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, February-March 1965 (79); Roy Lichtenstein, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, November-December 1967 (22, repr. in colour); Tate Gallery, January-February 1968 (21, repr. in colour); Kunsthalle, Bern, February-March 1968 (20, repr. in colour); Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, April-May 1968 (20, repr. in colour); Roy Lichtenstein, Guggenheim Museum, New York, September-November 1969 (25, repr. in colour)
Lit: Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein (London 1971), pp.16-17, repr. pl.72 in colour
Repr: Aujourd'hui, No.49, April 1965, p.46; The Tate Gallery (London 1969), p.193 in colour

The artist wrote (10 July 1967): 'I remember being concerned with the idea of doing two almost separate paintings having little hint of compositional connection, and each having slightly separate stylistic character. Of course there is the humorous connection of one panel shooting the other. I know that I got the idea of doing separate panels while working on Tex, so that Tex and Whaam are very closely related, and probably come from the same magazine - possibly from the same story. I think that the comic was "Armed Forces at War". I don't keep any records and I think I may have gotten the above information from your letter to me.

'Whaam relates in feeling to the many war paintings I did during 1962-63, including a five panel sequence entitled Live Ammo which has since unfortunately been resold and divided among four separate owners, the three paneled painting, As I Opened Fire, owned by the Stedelijk [Amsterdam] (which I think is the most recent war painting) and O.K. Hot Shot, owned by The Hague, as well as many smaller works. All of these portray emotionally charged subject matter as it might be reported in the dispassionate style of group decisions, as well as picturing modern methods of exporting economic and social philosophy.'

'Tex' (1962, oil on canvas, 157.5 x 203cm, collection E.J. Power, London) is reproduced in Waldman, op.cit., pl.23. Although a single-canvas painting, it too shows a much-foreshortened fighter plane entering from the (lower) left. The plane has similar markings to its equivalent in 'Whaam!', and similarly a word-bubble emanates from the pilot, the path of a missile beneath its right wing is indicated by a trail of smoke, and a second plane disintegrates in an elaborate explosion to the (upper) right side of the painting.

Several statements made by Lichtenstein on the ideas behind his work especially illuminate the significance of 'Whaam!'. In an interview with John Coplans in the catalogue of Roy Lichtenstein, Pasadena Art Museum, April-May 1967 (reprinted Artforum, May 1967, pp.34-9), he discusses his use of explosions and of popular/commercial idioms: he also states of the time when war imagery appeared in his work: 'At that time I was interested in anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong - usually love, war, or something that was highly-charged and emotional subject matter. Also, I wanted the subject matter to be opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques. Cartooning itself usually consists of very highly-charged subject matter carried out in standard, obvious and removed techniques.'

In an interview in the series 'What is Pop Art?', in Art News, November 1963, pp.25, 62-3, he discusses the interplay in his paintings between apparent object directedness and actual ground-directedness, and also says: 'The heroes depicted in comic books are fascist types, but I don't take them seriously in these paintings - maybe there is a point in not taking them seriously, a political point. I use them for purely formal reasons, and that's not what those heroes were invented for ... Pop Art has very immediate and of-the-moment meanings which will vanish ... Pop takes advantage of this "meaning", which is not supposed to last, to divert you from its formal content. I think the formal statement in my work will become clearer in time.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.436-8, reproduced p.436

Film and audio

Behind The Scenes

Conserving Whaam!

Watch Tate's conservation team revive Roy Lichtenstein's pop masterpiece


Roy Lichtenstein: Whaam! – 1

Can comics reflect the nature of society? Roy Lichtenstein thought so

Roy Lichtenstein: Whaam! – 2

Can comics reflect society? Roy Lichtenstein gives his thoughts

Roy Lichtenstein: Diagram of an Artist

A portrait of the pioneer of pop art


U2 animate a Lichtenstein

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WOW!: Lichtenstein: A Retrospective at Tate Modern II

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Henry Holland on Roy Lichtenstein

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Work of the Week: Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein

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This week sees the opening of Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, a major new exhibition of this celebrated painter’s work. One ...

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