Roy Lichtenstein

Date/place of birth

Manhattan, New York on 27 October 1923

Day/place of death

New York on 29 September 1997

Roy Lichtenstein - The Valve
Roy Lichtenstein - The Valve

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Roy Lichtenstein biography

He was considered the worst painter in America before becoming one of the most famous representatives of Pop Art: The artist Roy Lichtenstein turned comics into art, gave the speech bubbles new expressive power, and brought painting back to the people.

Roy Lichtenstein – Tough early years without glamour

Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born in Manhattan, New York on 27 October 1923. His father, a middle-class estate agent, enabled his son to attend private school where, however, art did not play a role. Despite this, Lichtenstein soon developed a strong interest in art which eventually led him to the art school at the Ohio State University. Three years of military service delayed his graduation until 1949 when he received his Master of Fine Arts and also married his first wife. Lichtenstein had less success as an artist; although he was able to celebrate his first exhibition in 1951, his works were not very well received. This remained the case for more than a decade, forcing Lichtenstein to earn his living as an art teacher. When the press did notice his art, it did so with unencouraging judgements such as the American magazine “Life” which deemed him “the worst painter in the United States”.

Mickey Mouse brings the breakthrough

This perception altered abruptly when he created probably his most famous picture “Look Mickey” in 1961, inspired by popular comics and imitating the modern printing technique, including a text-filled speech bubble. He had already experimented with Disney figures but never revealed the majority of these works and painted over some of them. This changed overnight with his pointed depiction of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck fishing, and Lichtenstein became famous and a sought-after artist. Only one year later, all his paintings had sold for good prices to collectors and Roy Lichtenstein could at last live from his art. The unmistakeable Lichtenstein style was also applied in three-dimensional works and in turn rubbed off on the design of commercial comics. The choice of themes did not always please his critics however: the depiction of everyday objects in particular aroused the expert’s disapproval, but met all the more with approval from enthusiastic buyers.

Between war, art and commerce

One motif often used by Lichtenstein were scenes of war which he staged with onomatopoeia and bright colours, resolutely rejecting any interpretation of political protest. Lichtenstein took meticulous care to use as little paint as possible and instead of filling the areas, employed the screen dots known from the printing technique, the so-called “Ben-Day Dots”. In his later work, Roy Lichtenstein distanced himself from the comic aesthetic which had made him famous and oriented himself more towards Expressionism and Surrealism again. Irrespective of all the controversies within established art criticism, works by Lichtenstein sold for respectable prices; the artist participated twice at documenta in Kassel (1968 and 1977) and received an honourary doctorate from the George Washington University.

Roy Lichtenstein died in New York on 29 September 1997 from a lung infection.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Roy Lichtenstein Prices

ArtistArtworkPrice
Roy LichtensteinThe Valve€87.500
Roy LichtensteinModern room (from the series: Interior series)€60.000
Roy LichtensteinMoonscape€34.720
Roy LichtensteinSweet Dreams Baby!€23.600
Roy LichtensteinArt critic€22.800
Roy LichtensteinSTILL LIFE WITH PICASSO€21.600

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