Last summer, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation announced that it was going to shut down and give the remainder of its assets to museums. About 400 works were donated to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and thousands of documents were given to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. The documents are being digitized to make them accessible to the public.

The latest Lichtenstein Foundation donation is a $5 million gift to the Smithsonian to create an endowment that would process and digitize material about artists whose works are historically underrepresented in the collections of American Museums, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and women.

Roy Lichtenstein and Comic Book Artists

Comic books became a major American industry with the publication of the Superman comic in 1938. Most of the artists whose work Roy Lichtenstein copied are no longer alive and he never met most of them, but he did meet Irv Novick, the artist who drew the original WHAAM! comic. The panel Novick drew was done for the January-February 1962 DC comic All-American Men of War #89.

Novick studied at National Academy of Design in New York. His career as a comic book artist lasted from 1939 until the 1990s.

According to an interview with Novick in Mike Richardson and Steve Duin’s book Comics: Between the Panels … Novick and Lichtenstein met while they were both serving in the military during World War ll:

He (Novick) had one curious encounter at camp. He dropped by the chief of staff’s quarters one night and found a young soldier sitting on a bunk, crying like a baby. “He said he was an artist,” Novick remembered, “and he had to do menial work, like cleaning up the officers’ quarters.

“It turned out to be Roy Lichtenstein. The work he showed me was rather poor and academic.” Feeling sorry for the kid, Novick got on the horn and got him a better job. “Later on, one of the first things he started copying was my work. He didn’t come into his own, doing things that were worthwhile, until he started doing things that were less academic than that. He was just making large copies of the cartoons I had drawn and painting them.”

Irv Novick died in 2004. Neither he, nor any of the other artists whose work Lichtenstein commandeered, received acknowledgment for their original work and the controversy over those omissions continues in the comic book world.

Roy Lichtenstein’s WHAAM! is in the permanent collection of the Tate Modern.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Point of View

British art critic, Alastair Sooke, sees Roy Lichtenstein’s work as more than just an appropriation of comic strips. “Lichtenstein took something tiny and ephemeral” Sooke said, “– a throwaway comic-strip panel that most people would overlook – and blew it up so that it was a substantial oil (and acrylic) painting more than 2m (6.5 ft) wide and 1.7m (5.5 ft) high. Here, he was saying, was a contemporary equivalent of a grand ‘history painting’, once considered the highest and most challenging branch of art. In the years after it was executed, people began to understand WHAAM! as a prophetic critique of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.”

Lichtenstein was not only influenced by comic book artists. His sense of style and composition was also influenced by Chinese artists, whose work he discovered in a book that he bought in France during the war. The Chinese influence can be seen in works like Nude from the Brushstroke Series, available at VFA.

Lichtenstein himself saw little distinction between artistic styles. “There is a relationship between cartooning and people like Miro and Picasso which may not be understood by the cartoonist,” he said, “but it definitely is related even in the early Disney.” Virtual Interior -Portrait of a Duck is a fine example of Lichtenstein’s style and composition.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Fine Art Prints at VFA

Please contact us if you would like more information about Nude from the Brushstroke Series, Virtual Interior -Portrait of a Duck or any of the other fine works for sale at VFA.

See More Roy Lichtenstein Work for Sale

Archives of American Art Announces Pivotal Gift from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art. October 24, 2018.
Jack Cowart. Don’t Try This At Home (or Alone). The Brooklyn Rail. December 11, 2018.
Brian Cronan. How Comic Book Artists Handled Roy Lichtenstein Using Their Work. Comic Book Resources. September 18, 2018.
Mike Richardson and Steve Duin. Comics: Between the Panels. Darkhorse Books. 1998.