Girl in Mirror
Property from the Collection of Marvin and Florence Gerstin
Signed 'rf Lichtenstein' (on the reverse)
This work will appear in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
The flawless face of a blond woman smiling back from the reflective surface of a mirror perfectly blends Roy Lichtenstein’s astute conceptual acumen with a degree of wit that marks out the best examples of the artist’s work. One of the artist’s most celebrated forms, his Girl paintings of the 1960s became one of the foundations of the Pop art movement with its radical reappraisal of the definitions of fine art at a time when the world was exploding with mass-produced images of films, television and advertising. At a time when the artist’s voice was in danger of being drowned out by the cacophony of mass-produced images, Lichtenstein subverted this language of mass communication and championed a new form of artistic expression, one which shook our assumptions to the core and celebrated the true nature of art, albeit by distinctly subversive means.
Staring rapturously into the surface of the mirror, the girl in Girl with Mirror seems to be joyously celebrating the appearance of her own reflection. Her carefully coiffured blond hair frames her smiling face, dominated by her sculptured eyebrows and fiery red lips. The painterly traditions of chiaroscuro have been abandoned as Lichtenstein renders her glowing complexion in a flat field of Ben-Day dots, mimicking the mass-produced images of comic books, from where he gathered much of his source material. During the postwar period, newly advanced printing methods allowed a proliferation of publications aimed at the burgeoning teenage market, creating a world of idealized romance and adolescent angst that began to reflect, for the first time, the feelings of a new generation of young adults. Yet these figures, whom young women in particular looked up to, where not true reflections of themselves. They were idealized fictions dealing with idealized situations, and as such often bore no resemblance to the lives of their audience. Yet they became immensely popular and were consumed by millions, and by the time Lichtenstein began using the language of their simplified aesthetics, they were already being seen as old fashioned and not the ideal source of inspiration for a new generation of young women.
Belying its visual simplicity, Girl with Mirror also possesses an intriguing conceptual complexity and depth. For in this work, the subject of the painting could just as easily be looking back at us—the viewer—reflected in the mirror upon which she gazes, setting up a thought-provoking dialogue between painter, subject and viewer. The nature of voyeurism was one that intrigued Lichtenstein, who produced his Girl paintings at the height of an age in which young women in particular were idealized and objectified, all in the name of commerce, as curator Diane Waldman explains, “They are to Lichtenstein what Liz and Marilyn were to Warhol, our society’s clichés, though without any true identity of their own. They are products of a culture that puts celluloid glamour and consumer objects before human dignity or collective achievement” (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993, p. 117).
As well as the philosophical associations, the mirror also possessed technical challenges for Lichtenstein. It had been an important motif in his work from the earliest days, when he began exploring and deconstructing the way that the viewer reads images in the modern, media-saturated world. Whilst he found it relatively easy to paint many of the everyday domestic objects by assembling his characteristic Ben-Day dots, the subject of the reflection offered him a greater challenge in trying to capture the fleeting image that appears on the mirror’s surface. In Girl in Mirror, Lichtenstein has used the dots to highlight the face and give a sense of light cast across the reflective surface. He has deconstructed not the reality of the mirror but instead the artistic short-hand by which mirrors are represented. By limiting his use of Ben-Day dots only to the reflection of the face, Lichtenstein highlights the artificiality of mirror’s reflection, “Mirrors are flat objects that have surfaces you can’t easily see since they’re always reflecting what’s around them,” Lichtenstein explained. “There’s no simple way to draw a mirror, so cartoonists invented dashed or diagonal lines to signify mirror. Now, you see those lines and you know it means ‘mirror,’ even though there are obviously no such lines in reality. If you put horizontal, instead of diagonal, lines across the same object, it wouldn’t say 'mirror.’ It’s a convention that we unconsciously accept” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in M. Kimmelman, PORTAITS, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere, reproduced at www.lichtensteinfoundation.org).
Lichtenstein, in short, is invoking our reflex understanding of the image, tapping into his career-long fascination with the way that we see, instilled in him from an early period by his teacher Hoyt L. Sherman. Lichtenstein is casting a spotlight on the absurd way in which these essentially abstract dots and lines and areas of canvas come together and become comprehensible. In Girl in Mirror, he has taken an age-old subject, used by artists such as Rubens, Van Eyck and Velasquez to create a picture-within-a-picture, and has then played with the boundaries between subject and object. Rather than examining the ephemera of popular culture, Lichtenstein’s Pop Art explores the way in which images function within the broad mass of the populace.
Roy Lichtenstein , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Works by Bontecou, Chamberlain, Daphnis, Higgins, Johns, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Scarpitta, Stella, Twombly, Tworkov, June 1964 (another example exhibited).
Kansas City, Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City Collects: A Selection of Works of Art Privately Owned in the Greater Kansas City Area, January-February 1965 (another example exhibited).
London, Tate Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, 1968, p. 51, no. 48 (another example exhibited).
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, 10th Anniversary, Friends of the Corcoran, October-November 1971, no. 50.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, American Art in Belgium, May-August 1977, p. 80, no. 83 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Aspen Institute, Roy Lichtenstein, July-September 1997 (another example exhibited).
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Collects Lichtenstein, January-May 2000 (another example exhibited).
Rome, Chiostro del Bramante; Milan, Padiglione di Arte Contemporanea; Trieste, Museo Revoltella and Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum, Roy Lichtenstein, Riflessi-Reflections, December 1999-September 2000, p. 103, no. 45 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Roy Lichtenstein: Spiegelbilder 1963-1997, October 2000-January 2001, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated on the cover).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, May-June 2008, pp. 62-63 (another example illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
42 x 42 x 2 in. (106.7 x 106.7 x 5.1 cm.)
E. Johnson, "The Image Duplicators-Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Warhol," Canadian Art, vol. 23, no. 100, January 1966, p. 12 (another example illustrated in color).
A. Boatto and G. Falzoni, eds., Lichtenstein, Rome, 1966 (another example illustrated on the cover in color).
D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1971, no. 114 (another example illustrated in color).
Roy Lichtenstein, 1970-1980, exh. cat., Saint Louis Art Museum, 1981, pp. 16 and 21 (another example illustrated).
Roy Lichtenstein at Colorado State University, exh. cat., Fort Collins, 1982 (another example illustrated in color and on the inside back cover).
Leo Castelli: Gentle Snapshots, exh. cat., Zurich, 1982, pp. 58-59. (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
Kodansha Ltd., Contemporary Great Masters: Roy Lichtenstein, Tokyo, 1992, p. 5 (another example illustrated in color).
A. Betsky, Three California Houses: The Homes of Max Palevsky, New York, 2002, p. 80 (another example illustrated in color and on the inside back cover).
M. Lobel, Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art, New Haven, 2002, pp. 132, 135, 139 and 144, no. 84 (another example illustrated in color).
L. Hales, "A Visual Conversation," Home & Design Magazine, November/December 2007.
D. Solway, "Art, Drugs, and Rock 'N' Roll," W Magazine, November 2010, p. 59 (another example illustrated in color).
Ivan C. Karp, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1966