Among the many things that Roy Lichtenstein saved is a 1950 letter from Ohio State University, telling him that he would not be granted tenure, and would be relieved of his teaching position because he had failed to demonstrated the “substantial growth and future promise that foreshadows the future full professor.”
The letter was, of course, bad news for the artist but led to a decade in which Lichtenstein worked as a draftsman, window decorator and also honed his skills and began creating the instantly recognizable artwork that made him one of the greatest American artists of all time.
Roy Lichtenstein was very methodical. He was a note taker, kept day planners and collected copious amounts of materials related to his artwork, which have been donated to the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, to be digitized and made available to the public.
The collection, which includes oral histories and artist interviews, art object files, an audiovisual collection, personal and professional correspondence, exhibition files, and thousands of documentary photographs of the artist, his artwork, and exhibition installations, will take years to digitize.
Archivists and art historians working on the material at the Smithsonian have already discovered an incredible amount of material that sheds light on both the personal and working life of the artist.
The Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck Myths
Roy Lichtenstein had his first solo exhibit in February 1962, at the Leo Castelli Gallery. Every painting in the exhibit was sold before the show opened. The massive painting, Look Mickey, was part of that show, and one of the reasons that he became a Pop icon.
Art critics and historians tell different stories about Lichtenstein’s inspiration for the painting. The most popular story, told by English art critic Edward Lucie-Smith, is that one of Lichtenstein’s sons pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and said, “I bet you can’t paint as good as that, Dad.”
What art historians found is a Disney book, published in 1960, called Donald Duck: Lost and Found, that includes an illustration Lichtenstein used for Look Mickey, which is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Donald Duck became a recurring image in Lichtenstein’s work. As with his other artworks, Lichtenstein contrasted the feel of the cartoon with the coolness of his bold, primary colors and sharp outlines.
Virtual Interior-Portrait of a Duck at VFA
Printmaking was conducive to Lichtenstein’s Pop visions. He was a prolific and masterful printmaker. Virtual Interior – Portrait of a Duck, available at VFA, is a perfect example of Lichtenstein’s playful, yet meticulous, artwork.
Please contact us if you would like more information about the work of Roy Lichtenstein, or any of the other fine artworks, available at VFA.
Edward Lucie-Smith. Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists. Thames & Hudson. 1999.
Susannah Gardiner. The Stories of Poets, Artists and Cartoon Characters Are All Waiting to Be Discovered in Roy Lichtenstein’s Personal Papers. smithsonian.com. February 25, 2019.
Klaus Honnef. Pop Art. TASCHEN. 2004
Gary van Wyk. Pop Art. 50 Works of Art You Should Know. PRESTEL. 2013.