Near the end of the 1970s, Lichtenstein became preoccupied with the past movements of modernism: Surrealism, Futurism and German Expressionism. He took the fundamental pictorial principles of these periods and adapted them into his own unique style. German Expressionism's sharp intersecting planes and angular, dynamic lines appealed to Lichtenstein's sense of the graphic that is found in this present painting.
Furthermore, interest in German Expressionism opened up new kinds of imagery for Lichtenstein, namely the human figure. From the middle of the 1960s until the end of the 1970s, the artist had focused on the abstraction of objects, such as mirrors or entablatures. With the advent of these pictures, Lichtenstein began to paint especially the female figure which he had not done so since the early 1960s.
Lichtenstein always painted the romantic side of the female stereotype. In the present painting he depicts a monumental nude woman in the forest. She fills the entire foreground space while craggy trees and a mountain peak are located behind her. Unlike the soft, pliable women from the cartoons and advertisements in his paintings of the 1960s, this female image resembles a primitive Amazon warrior with her intense gaze, bared breast and fist in the air. Diane Waldman has noted, "German Expressionism gave twentieth century art a new artistic language, imparting an intense psychological expression to painting through the use of distorted forms, jagged lines, and violent colors. Aware of their great historical antecedents, German Expressionists reinvigorated such timeless subjects as landscape and the figure with new meaning, reinterpreted color as it is applied to form, and reinvented the woodcut. They turned Christian mythology into an eloquent metaphor for the tragedy of modern life, recorded the decadence of the brilliant city of Berlin, and left us a collective portrait of a city in ashes. Above all, they recorded a period in history that marked a passing of a political era and the end of the artist's traditional dialogue with nature, which became all but completely overshadowed by urban life. Of all the three movements that inspired the paintings discussed above, it is German Expressionism that connects most directly with Lichtenstein's interest in issues of painting and style. German Expressionist pictorial innovations led him to expand his ideas into sculpture and into a series of landscapes and figurative painting that are arguably his answer to Abstract Expressionism, which was indebted in no small way to the pioneering movement in early twentieth-century Germany." (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., New York, 1993, pp. 251-253.)
In the present picture, each plane of the composition is articulated such that the picture appears faceted. Most of each area is blocked by black contour lines and filled in with solid color or diagonal stripes which substitutes Lichtenstein's usual Ben-days dots and resembles hatch marks of a woodcut. The facial features are rendered in a three-dimensional way, shown in the way the planes form the nose and cheek. There are some Cubist touches, in terms of the way planes intersect with each other, the collapse of foreground and background and the indistinct sense of spatial depth. Early on in his career, Lichtenstein has explained to some degree why he used works by past modern masters. "When I do a 'Mondrian' or a 'Picasso,' it has, I think a sort of sharpening effect because I am trying to make a commercialized Picasso or Mondrian or a commercialized Abstract Expressionist painting, let's say. At the same time I'm very much concerned with getting my own work to be a work of art, so that it has a sort of rebuilding aspect to it also. So, it's completely rearranged; it has become commercialized because the style that I switch it into is one of commercialization. At the same time I recognize that this is only a mode or a style, and it's not the truth of my own work because my work is involved with organization. I don't want it to appear to be involved in this. But the result that I work toward is one of creating a new work of art which has other qualities than the Picasso or the Mondrian or the Abstract Expressionist painting." (Quoted in Waldman, ibid, p. 39.)
Fig. 1 Ernest Ludwig Kirschner, Akte in der Sonne, 1910-1920, Private Collection
Fig. 2 Ernest Ludwig Kirschner, Marzella, 1909-1910, Moderna Museet Stockholm
Fig. 3 Lichtenstein, Expressionist Head, 1980, Private Collection