Through appropriation, repetition, stylization, and parody, Lichtenstein was the first artist to critically and systematically dismantle the history of modern art, though not without deference and respect. As he admitted early on, "The things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire." As this was an abiding topic for him, this is one of only two galleries in the exhibition in which the works span the breadth of his career.
Lichtenstein never worked from originals, but from reproductions. Indeed, his style of replication could not be mistaken for the original: he always rephrased a source in his own language. Washington Crossing the Delaware I (c. 1951), the earliest work on display, translates Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's well-known oil painting from 1851 into the faux-naive, Cubist-inspired style Lichtenstein employed in the 1950s. During the heyday of his comic-inspired Pop works, the artist was simultaneously producing compositions that appropriated the imagery of Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian. The muted earth tones and expressive brushwork in Picasso's Femme d'Alger, for example, are transformed in Lichtenstein's version by primary colors, hard outlines, and enlarged halftone dots. The result is not so much a Lichtenstein that looks like a Picasso, but rather a Picasso that looks like a Lichtenstein.
Throughout his career, Lichtenstein applied his comic style to create ersatz versions of Impressionist, Cubist, Futurist, Surrealist, and German Expressionist works, among others. In some cases, he worked from a particular painting; in other cases, as in Grapes (1972) or Still Life with Glass and Peeled Lemon (1972), he worked with generalized conventions of a style or genre. He targeted the works of modern masters like Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, and Willem de Kooning, as well as lesser-known artists and images, such as the Purist paintings of Amédée Ozenfant, the pour paintings of Morris Louis, and Native American motifs. Lichtenstein's dedication to this strategy has proven to be hugely influential to a number of successive artists, including Jeff Koons and Sherrie Levine.
Roy Lichtenstein. Haystack, 1969. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. The Ruben Family.