Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Little Landscape

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Little Landscape
signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '79' (on the reverse)
oil and Magna on canvas
36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1979.
Estate of the artist
Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
L. Addison, "On exhibit: Roy Lichtenstein: American Indian Encounters," El Palacio, vol. 111, no. 1, Spring 2006.
"City Watch: Southampton, N.Y.," Art & Antiques, December 2006, vol. 29, no. 12, p. 126 (illustrated in color).
Montclair Art Museum; Sante Fe, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico; Tacoma Art Museum; Southampton, Parrish Art Museum; Indianapolis, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Roy Lichtenstein: American Indian Encounters, October 2005-April 2007, pp. 28, 37 and 77, no. 31 (illustrated in color and illustrated in color on the front cover).
Milano, La Triennale di Milano, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, January-May 2010, p. 281 (illustrated in color).
Art Institute of Chicago; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; London, Tate Modern; Paris, Centre Pompidou, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, May 2012-November 2013, p. 214, no. 76 (illustrated in color).

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

This work will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Painted in 1979, Little Landscape is a crucial painting from Roy Lichtenstein’s Amerindian series, an investigation of stereotypical portrayals of Native American cultures that the artist began at a time when Native American activism was at its height in the United States. In this moment, Lichtenstein returned to his long-standing interest in the nuances of indigenous American art, craft, and design traditions. Of equal concern to Lichtenstein was the way in which Native American cultures have been transformed into clichés in the U.S. American imaginary. Thus, in his Amerindian series, the artist often consolidated as many cliched images into a singular vision rendered in his iconic comic-book style. To create this painting, Lichtenstein flattened the features of a landscape into a sequence of planes, subdivided by bold, primary colors. For instance, peaks of a chain of mountains in a range are simplified into two parallel zigzag lines. The blue diagonal lines so frequently found in Lichtenstein oeuvre as a sign of contemporary printing technologies, here, signify rain. A canoe, with an upturned lip echoing the peak of the mountain, sneaks into the bottom, left side of the canvas. As the curators who included Little Landscape in the 2005 traveling exhibition, Roy Lichtenstein: American Indian Encounters write in the accompanying catalogue, Lichtenstein later referred to this ‘representation of a canoe’— part of his repertoire of invented shapes that evoke American Indian culture. This stereotypical canoe image is also featured in Little Landscape (1979), along with stylized mountains, a thunderbird motif, and sacred four direction crosses as stars in the night sky. A saguaro cactus is also evident, a typical plant for the Sonoran Desert; bird tracks, a common motif on some pre-contact Southwest pottery, are also apparently leading away from the cactus. Stereotypical geometric designs often found on basketry and textiles from the American Southwest, incorporated into a tipi design and border, complete the work.

In a 1985 interview, Lichtenstein described the logic to this approach to painting The Amerindian series: “They’re just a mixture of every kind of Indian design from Northwest Indians to Plains Indians to Pueblo. They are no particular tribe of Indians. It’s just everything that people vaguely associated with Indians. ... Anything that I could think of that was ‘Indian’ got into them. Lichtenstein would explain, “It’s like seeing the Indian as if in the Museum of Natural History, not knowing which tribe he belonged to. All of the different tribes are mixed up to show the cliché idea of “Indian” revealing the artist’s interest in “the play of the Western or the European’s view of the Indian against the Indian’s view of himself” (R. Lichtenstein quoted by G. Stavitsky and T. Johnson in Roy Lichtenstein: Native American Encounters, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2006, p. 25).

Before Roy Lichtenstein became the legendary pop artist who, alongside Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist, ushered in the Pop Art movement by making mass-produced and popular images such as comic strips the subjects of sleek and sophisticated painting, the artist was a voracious student who taught himself to draw by looking at sources as wide-ranging as medieval European art to Picasso in books. As the artist, himself has explained, “Most of what we [he and his then wife, Isabel] saw was in reproduction. Reproduction was really the subject of my work” (R. Lichtenstein quoted by Diana Waldman, New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1970, p. 25), and later, “All my art is in some way about other art, even if the other art is cartoons” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne, 2000, frontispiece). Reproduction was also the means by which he had been taught to draw: by copying old and new masters alike, a time-honored tradition of learning the skills and conceits of paintings since the Renaissance. But true to Lichtenstein’s interest in the discarded and “discredited” subjects of American culture—including comic strips and cartoons considered too banal to be thought of in terms of their aesthetic formulations— he was drawn to the art of the American West, which, in the mid-20th century, marked by Pollock’s expressionist throes of emotion translated into throws of paint, was surely out of favor.

George Catlin, the early 19th-century American painter of the American West, would be a longstanding source of influence for Lichtenstein. The artist would repeatedly turn to the hundreds of portraits and landscapes his predecessor made in the 1830s that were reproduced in Catlin’s book Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians from 1841 over the first thirty years of Lichtenstein’s artistic practice. His focused study of Catlin’s drawings and paintings would be matched by equal attention to the art of Native Americans and the ways in which this diverse group of people was rendered into clichés and stereotypes as part of the mythmaking process of writing any nation’s history. For Lichtenstein, it was “difference between real life, between the actual event and what became of it in the medium of art” that compelled the artist to these images (R. Lichtenstein, unpublished interview on January 26, 1990 quoted by G. Stavitsky and T. Johnson in Roy Lichtenstein: Native American Encounters, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2006, p. 11). As Gail Stavitsky and Twig Johnson, who curated Roy Lichtenstein: American Indian Encounters for the Montclair Art Museum, write, “the illusion of these works serving as eyewitness accounts within a cliched format of history painting is what fascinated Lichtenstein” (Ibid.).

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