- Roy Lichtenstein
- Woman IV
- signed and dated 82 on the reverse
- oil and Magna on linen
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1985
Executed at the apex of Lichtenstein’s trailblazing and perennially inventive career, Woman IV reflects Pop Art at its most sophisticated and self-aware. Throughout the 1960s, Lichtenstein’s early re-contextualization of widely circulated mass media images engineered the architectural fabric of Pop imagery, profoundly upsetting the division between “low” and “high” art and toppling the tenuous hierarchies of aesthetic judgment. The artist’s eponymous lexicon of comic-inspired Benday dots, hard graphic lines, and vivid color palette carried into the art history inspired paintings that Lichtenstein began in the early 1960s. Following his aesthetic engagement with reproductions of masterpieces by Paul Cézanne, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso, Lichtenstein made paintings that isolated precisely drawn cartoon brushstrokes, enlarged and exaggerated as a sardonic comment on the heroic, gestural handling of paint that epitomized the Abstract Expressionist. Woman IV marks most erudite and visually spellbinding climax of Lichtenstein’s challenges to the distinction between good and bad taste, incorporating the manicured, highly planned strokes of his 1965-66 Brushstroke paintings. Unlike his earlier Brushstroke paintings, however, here Lichtenstein introduces for the first time a figurative subject matter that not only recalls the artist’s own iconic paintings of Pop beauties, but also offers further commentary upon Willem de Kooning’s gesturally rendered painting, Woman I – amongst the most archetypal paintings of the Abstract Expressionist canon and, as such, a powerful visual cliché in its own right. Here, Lichtenstein effortlessly reimagines the weighty mantle of Abstract Expressionism, rearticulating de Kooning’s visual vernacular on his own, utterly distinctive Pop terms. Describing Lichtenstein’s unique project in his Woman paintings, Diane Waldman notes, “Lichtenstein, like de Kooning, progressed in his paintings of women from a clearly recognizable though dramatically altered figure to an image in which only the barest suggestion of a female eye and mouth lend it any reality whatsoever…Lichtenstein based his first paintings in this series on a close reading of de Kooning’s Woman, 1950, with the eyes, mouth, lips, breast, arm, and leg in the same positions. But Lichtenstein’s Woman II, Woman III, and Woman IV appear to be variations on his own first Woman painting rather than modeled on any of the variations in de Kooning’s series.” (Diane Waldman cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1993, p. 265)
Upon close examination, these seemingly gestural strokes reveal themselves comprised of small, precise applications of paint that are clean, cool facsimiles of the Abstract Expressionist indulgence for the muscular splatters and drips of action painting. Lichtenstein literally interpreted de Kooning’s vigorously rendered Woman into a looser structure that is both more abstract and more controlled than the original masterpiece. Bold black strokes articulate the vague outline of a female form, which is anchored by, as Waldman characterizes, the mere suggestions of eye and mouth. A small passage of red Benday dots abuts the stripped down mouth, both lending shape to the woman’s face and standing in almost as a signature for the artist.
Asked in 1986 about how the purportedly ‘real’ brushstrokes seem so controlled, Lichtenstein retorted, “It’s because I don’t want it to look like a modulated area. I want it to look like a brushstroke. They don’t all come out that way, but they are supposed to look like instances of the perfect brushstroke.” (The artist quoted in BOMB, 14, Winter 1986) Lichtenstein underscored his piercingly clever visual inventiveness and conceptual sophistication: “It’s taking something that originally was supposed to mean immediacy and I’m tediously drawing something that looks like a brushstroke…I want it to look as though it were painstaking. It’s a picture of a picture really and it’s a misconstrued picture of a picture.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 50). In Woman IV, Lichtenstein offers the viewer an intimate engagement with both art historical precedent and his own artistic past. By weaving allusions to de Kooning with reimagined figures from his own, already mythic oeuvre, he creates an enigmatically multifaceted composition that defies clear categorization.