Continuing on with our posts regarding the most commonly asked questions by visitors to Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, we thought we would take a moment to address this frequent question…
Do Lichtenstein’s paintings look just like the source material?
The quick answer is “no.” Although Lichtenstein did adapt work from a variety of media, including children’s books, advertising, catalogues, and comic strips, he made adjustments in form and content so that the final piece always differs—sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically—from the source material.
For example, as you can see upon close observation of the above image from the book Donald Duck Lost and Found, the final work differs conspicuously from the source. First, look at the perspective. In the original drawing, the viewer looks at Mickey and Donald from a point past the end of the dock. In Lichtenstein’s painting, it almost seems like the viewer is looking on from the shore.
Lichtenstein has also taken out much of the detail and color. His palette includes white and the primary colors, while the original painting is much more nuanced. Lichtenstein also stripped down many of the details of the painting—the wood has lost its grain, the people and trees have been removed from the background, and water is no longer depicted using subtle shifts in color, but by a highly stylized depiction of what we accept water to look like.
Similarly, Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece is adapted from a comic strip, but both the image and text have been altered. In the original version, the couple is in a similar position, but instead of being in an art studio excitedly examining a canvas, they’re driving in a car having an uncomfortable conversation. And as opposed to the enthusiastic “Why, Brad Darling, this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you’ll have all of New York clamoring for your work!” the source material begins with “But someday the bitterness will pass…” This painting is a nod to Lichtenstein’s sense of humor about his newfound fame in the art world.
For even more information about Lichtenstein's source material, check out Yale ARTbooks. As the publisher of the Lichtenstein catalogue, they're similarly curious about the story behind Lichtenstein's body of work.
Please send any Lichtenstein-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer!
Image from Donald Duck Lost and Found. Published by Golden Press, 1960.