Water Lilies with Willows, from Water Lilies

Roy Lichtenstein

Bold, graphic and industrial are descriptors often applied to the work of Roy Lichtenstein, a pioneer of American Pop Art, and at first glance, place his commercially influenced artworks in binary opposition to the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet. Yet, Lichtenstein frequently referenced the works of the venerated French master throughout his career, challenging the perceived differences between their artistic styles. Following his iterations of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral and Haystacks that he produced in 1968 and 1969 respectively, Lichtenstein turned to Monet’s most famous works: his paintings of water lilies at Giverny, France. In Water Lilies with Willows – one of six screenprints the artist produced in 1992 in reference to Monet’s paintings – Lichtenstein parodies these iconic works of art history, translating them for the modern age through his Pop Art aesthetic. In doing so, Lichtenstein reveals some unexpected parallels between the two artists’ formal concerns, despite their drastically different artistic styles.

A key priority in the works of Monet and the Impressionists was capturing the subtle changes in light conditions and that desire drove Monet to create over two hundred and fifty oil paintings of the water lilies at Giverny. His fascination with light and its reflections produced some of the most spectacular renderings of water within the art historical canon. Acknowledging that the rendering of such delicate nuance in thick oils worked against his clinical and mechanical aesthetic style, Lichtenstein explored alternative ways to replicate the subtleties in Monet’s composition. Constructed using sign painter’s enamel screenprinted on to stainless steel, Lichtenstein’s Water Lilies series reinforces the industrial essence of his practice. However, his innovative use of stainless steel as the surface for his works gives them a reflective quality, mirroring the lighting, colours, and contents of the room in which they are exhibited. As stated by Mary Lee Corlett, Lichtenstein’s Water Lilies “transmogrify”, constantly changing as they are viewed from different angles. Lichtenstein’s choice of medium in Water Lilies with Willows allowed the artist to accurately replicate the characteristics of water, as Monet had sought to do through oil paint almost a century earlier. Lichtenstein had long been interested in reflections, most evidently exemplified in his Mirror Series of 1972, and his meditations on Monet’s works allowed him to further experiment with incorporating reflection into his art. The result is a modernised depiction of Monet’s Impressionist masterpiece, paradoxical in its use of industrial materials to portray the effects of the natural world: a “mechanical Monet”, as Lichtenstein described the work.

Despite the apparent differences in their execution, both Lichtenstein and Monet had drawn inspiration from the aesthetic of Japanese woodcuts. Monet amassed a collection of over one hundred Japanese prints, and the gardens at Giverny were influenced by his love of these images. Rendered in block colours with thick black lines, Lichtenstein also pays homage to the woodcut tradition, a technique he frequently used throughout his printmaking career. While the influence of Japanese woodcuts on the work of Claude Monet is most evident through his celebration of nature, Lichtenstein’s appreciation is exemplified through the graphic qualities of his Pop Art style.

Lichtenstein’s parody of Monet’s paintings of water lilies highlights his admiration for the Impressionist master, while simultaneously showcasing the possibilities afforded to him through the Pop Art aesthetic. What might at first appear as a whimsical Pop Art pastiche of the revered Impressionist paintings reveals itself as a complex exploration of medium, style and aesthetics. Lichtenstein creates a modern and eye-catching piece, imbued with the formal concerns of his artistic predecessors.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Water Lilies with Willows, from Water Lilies
Screenprinted enamel in colours, on processed and swirled stainless steel, contained within the original artist's specified white wooden frame
Framed Size
58 ¼ x 104 ¼ in : 147.5 x 264.5 cm
The bon à tirer proof before the edition of 23
Signed, dated and annotated 'O.K.' in black felt-tip pen on the reverse
Published by Saff Tech Arts, Oxford, Maryland
Private Collection, New York
David Benrimon Fine Art, New York
Private Collection, USA
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Water Lilies, 1992, pp. 11-12 (illus.)(another example exhib.)
London, Bernard Jacobson, Roy Lichtenstein: Last Still Life and Other Works, 2004 (another example exhib.)
New York, Jacobson Howard Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Water Lilies, 2006 (another example exhib.)
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Water Lilies, 1992, pp. 11-12 (illus.)
Mary Lee Corlett (2002), The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein. A Catalogue Raisonné 1948-1997, no. 266 (illus.)
Tokyo, The Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art/The Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum catalogue, 2003, p. 113 (illus.)
M. S. Kushner and Donald Saff, Art in Collaboration, Munich, Berlin, London, 2010, no. 99, pp. 104-105 (illus.)
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