Roy Lichtenstein was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. His comic-strip inspired art is among the most recognizable in his oeuvre. Here are 10 things to know about him:
Roy was born in New York City in 1923 into a Jewish family, on the Upper West Side. He studied briefly at the Art Students League—where, fun fact, he was a student of Reginald Marsh’s—before enrolling at Ohio State University. Later in life, he lived in Southampton, and after 1970 he split his time between his Long Island retreat and Manhattan. He died in 1997 of pneumonia at New York University Medical Center.
The artist fashioned a rotating easel for himself, which allowed him to turn and paint at any angle. He would also project his subjects onto the canvas and trace them directly with paint. His signature Ben-Day dots were painted with a stencil.
As a boy, Lichtenstein attended the Dwight School, then known as the Franklin School for Boys, a private school on West 89th Street. The school did not offer art in its curriculum, so at the age of 14, Roy enrolled in Saturday morning watercolor classes at Parsons School of Design in 1937. That same year, he purchased his first book on art, “Modern Art: The Men, The Movements, The Meaning,” by Thomas Craven.
His mother was a gifted piano player, and passed her musical inclination to her son. In high school, Roy played the jazz flute, the clarinet, and piano. He attended jazz clubs in midtown Manhattan, as well as concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Lichtenstein even briefly formed a band with a friend. He made portraits of musicians beginning in 1938, and later, even designed a poster for the Aspen Winter Jazz festival in 1967.
In 1970, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art commissioned the artist to create a film. The resultant work, titled “Three Landscapes,” was a three-screen movie made up of marine landscapes on 35mm film interspersed with painting and his iconic comic strip motif. It was produced with Universal Studios in Hollywood.
The artist worked in unique media, including an enamel on metal mural he completed for the Times Square subway station; a painted racing version BMW 320i; a sculpture for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona; and even a logo for DreamWorks Records.
In 1964, Life magazine published a profile of the artist, with the headline, “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” With the launch of his 1962 debut solo show at Castelli Gallery in New York, art critic Max Kozloff wrote, “Art galleries are being invaded by the pin-headed and contemptible style of gum-chewers, bobby-soxers, and worse, delinquents.” (Thankfully, the art-world would go on to embrace Lichentsein, and he remains today one of the most celebrated Pop Artists.)
According to his widow, Dorothy Herzka, whom the artist married in 1968, Roy “adored women.” A 2008 exhibit at Gagosian Gallery, titled, “Roy Lichtenstein: Girls,” seemed to confirm this. The 12 selected pieces were from the artist’s early works (executed between 1962 and 1964) and depicted, in revelatory fashion, mostly blond, “anonymous, beautiful and often unhappily bothered” women, according to the review in the New York Times.
At auction, Lichtenstein has set records, with individual artworks selling for $42.6 million (in 2010), $56.1 million (in 2013), and $95.4 million (in 2015). In 2012, art collector Agnes Gund sold Lichtenstein’s 1962 “Masterpiece” for $165 million, to support Art for Justice, a fund that supports criminal justice reform and the reduction of mass incarceration.
His 1961 “Electric Cord,” which he sold to Leo Castelli for $750, disappeared in 1970, when Castelli sent the piece out for cleaning. The gallery listed the artwork as missing or stolen with the Art Loss Register in 2007. The year before, the Lichtenstein Foundation illustrated their annual Christmas card with the image, hoping it would help end the mystery of what became of the painting. In August of 2012, “Electric Cord” resurfaced: it had been shipped from a Bogota, Colombia gallery to a New York warehouse. Art dealer James Goodman was contacted with an offer to sell it, and he in turn contacted the Lichtenstein Foundation. The U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI sorted through the ownership dispute—the shipping gallery claimed it had a receipt from the Castelli Gallery from the purchase. “Electric Cord” is estimated to be worth $4 million today.