Executed in 1965, this work will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
In 1964, Roy Lichtenstein began painting landscapes. This important turning point marked the first of his concerted efforts in producing a series. Indeed, his landscapes--time-honored art historical traditions in themselves--afforded him the opportunity to explore its depiction as an artificial construct, using the formal devices he had introduced in his early comic strip paintings. Contrary to historical conventions, Lichtenstein's landscapes questioned the fundamental verity of landscape as genre, and denied nature's reality altogether, offering instead a different view of landscape--as a product of the mass media.
With their source in comic books, Lichtenstein's landscapes were twice removed from nature. His vision was a radically simplified and altered facsimile in which basic elements - shapes, volumes, light and shade - were presented in shorthand version. To deprive his landscape of roots in reality, he used a non-naturalistic palette of black, white and primary colors, drawing out their contrasts through the juxtapositions of solid color and Ben Day dot patterns that were enclosed in stylized demarcations. Lichtenstein bent nature to design, transforming organic forms into geometric ones and random structures into orderly compositions. Since the graphic flatness of comic books insisted on their fiction, the use of this predetermined setup enabled Lichtenstein to forgo the inveterate illusionism of the landscape genre in art and conform instead to the ineluctable reality of the flat plane of the canvas.
The extreme abstraction of Landscape with Column is readily apparent; indeed, only the titular column--itself truncated by the edge of the canvas--can be considered wholly representational. Bisected by an incisive black line, the composition distills into two horizontal rectangular expanses of primary color. Ben day dots take unprecedented autonomy in the dual use of red and blue screens in the uppermost area, which doubles into the airiness of "sky," while a uniform plane of yellow in the lowermost area renders a solid "ground." The effect is optical rather than illusionistic; the red and blue sections alternately advance and recede, while the yellow lower half draws attention to the flatness of the surface. Compared to the sweep of an actual landscape, Landscape with Column stages most of its content as a close-up in two dimensions.
Complete abstraction is staved off by the presence of the column, whose cleverly foreshortened form signals the recession of three-dimensional form, in two-dimensional space. Receding into the "non-space" of Landscape with Column, the depiction of the column is particularly jarring. Its evident truncation suggests continuation beyong the frame of the canvas. Used in illusionistic depictions to connote the reality beyond the "reality" of the canvas, such a pictorial convention makes little sense in the anti-illusionism of Landscape with Column. However, it wittily conveys the banter between two and three dimensions that lies at the heart of Lichtenstein's enterprise.
Far from exhaustive, the artist's rendering of the titular column is notational. The viewer identifies the form as a column only because the painting's title references it. Stripped of its nomenclature, this abstract form takes on other associations. Pointed obliquely at the viewer, its partial revelation assumes a sinister aura quite unlike the benign grandeur associated to ancient ruins. Conversely, its circular end is reminiscent of the barrel of a gun. Even within a subset of classical landscapes, Landscape with Column is rooted to the iconic depictions of fighter planes in works such as Whaaam, 1963 and As I Opened Fire, 1964.
The first of his classical landscapes, Temple of Apollo, 1964, was inspired by the wallpaper that adorned his favorite Greek restaurant - one that featured repeated silver stenciled images of the Parthenon. The artist was amused by the fact that a shorthand sign comprising a few ancient columns, reproduced and mass-produced into a kitsch object, could immediately convey an entire ancient culture and the notion of "civilization". Compared to the vaunted attachments placed on ruins - the rare and extant fragments of our past - his depiction employed the technique of cheap and easy industrial manufacture - an extension of civilizing process. Landscape with Column has an even sharper edge on the ramifications of "civilization": the visual double-entendre of the column's allusion to the barrel of a gun conflate the past with present and brings the different ends of "progress" into full focus.
Landscape with Column
Oil and magna on canvas
Signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein 1965' (on the reverse)
Paris, Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Roy Lichtenstein, June 1965.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, The Tate Gallery and Kunsthalle Bern, Roy Lichtenstein, November 1967-March 1968, pp. 23 and 51, no. 38 (illustrated in color).
Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbe Museum and Ghent, Sint Pietersabdij, three blind mice, April-August 1968, p. 51, no. 62 (illustrated).
Knokke-le Zoute, Gemeentelijk Casino, Pop Art-Nouveau Rélisme-Nieuwe Figurative, June-September 1970.
Münster/Westfalen, Landesmuseum für Kunste und Kulturgeschichte, Everybody Knows, September-October 1972, no. 34.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, American Art in Belgium, May-August 1977, p. 81, no. 84 (illustrated).
Venice, Instituto di Cultura di Palazzo Grassi, Pop Art: Evolution of a Generation, March-July 1980, p. 74, no. 20.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Haus der Kunst, Munich, October 1994-January 1995.
Rotterdam Konsthal, Pop Art, April-October 1995.
Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, The Pop '60s: Transatlantic Crossing, September-November 1997, p. 110, no. 75 (illustrated in color).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum für Moderne Kunst; London, The Hayward Gallery and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Roy Lichtenstein--All About Art, August 2003-September 2004, no. 25 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
48 x 68 1/8 in. (121.9 x 173 cm.)
A. Boatto and G. Falzoni, eds., Lichtenstein, Rome, 1966.
A. Boatto and G. Falzoni, eds., "Lichtenstein," Fantazaria, vol. 1, no. 2, July-August 1966, p. 85 (illustrated).
L. Alloway, "Roy Lichtenstein," Studio International, vol. 175, no. 896, January 1968, p. 30 (illustrated).
J. Coplans, ed., Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, no. 49 (illustrated).
Roy Lichtenstein: Die Retrospektive [supplementary publication], exh. cat., Munich, Haus der Kunst, October 1994-January 1995, no. S 16 (illustrated in color).
Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1965