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Femme d'Alger
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More about Femme d'Alger

dbyerley's picture

Contributor

Roy Lichtenstein was copied on his copy of a copy.

Have you ever really liked your friend’s boyfriend, so you found someone else that’s almost exactly like them but the “generic brand” version? That’s analogous to the way Roy Lichtenstein’s Femme d’Alger interprets, repurposes, reduces, reuses, and recycles Picasso’s version of Delacroix’s original image.  

Sometimes art practice can be like a game of telephone. An artist creates an image, which then becomes iconic, and later artists take this iconic image and put their own spin on it, and if this rendition is successful and clever enough, the process will repeat itself. Lichtenstein’s version of Femme d’Alger takes the cubism of Picasso, pares it down to a more simplified geometric pattern, throws out its varied color scheme, replaces it with Piet Mondrian’s strict black and white and primary colors schematic, bakes it at 375 degrees, and WHAAM! he’s got an “original” painting. Lichtenstein’s fame centers around his incorporation of comics and “low” art forms into his works. He, like Sartle, felt that the art world was too damn pretentious and wanted to combine a critical interpretation of art history with a sense of humor. Museum curator Diane Waldman considered it an “imitation” or “cheap reproduction” of Picasso’s version. Art critics looooove to use the term “derivative” to criticize artists for not being original enough, yet every artist inspires and emulates another, further developing their ideas while adding their own. Like almost everything else, art does not exist in a vacuum. It’s impossible for an artist to simply ignore the work of every one of their predecessors to create something that is entirely new.  

Every new artistic movement strives to push the boundaries of whatever limits their predecessors imposed upon them, but in order to do so they must parody those same artists. As a result, we get three generations of artists all re-interpreting an infamous Delacroix, looking back on every important iteration of the painting in order to somehow push the boundaries of art even farther than the last guy. Picasso copies Delacroix, Lichtenstein copies Picasso, and then almost 50 years later, contemporary artist Jose Davila takes on this image. In a parody of a parody of a parody, Davila finds a way to further simplify the motif.  Picasso’s version takes away the naturalism of the original Delacroix and replaces it with cubism. Lichtenstein takes away the visual complexity of Picasso’s cubism and pares it down to a more simplistic version with thick black lines separating geometric fields of primary colors (emulating Piet Mondrian). Davila, in turn, drains away each field of color in a series of cutouts, each one taking away another piece of Lichtenstein’s coloring book-esque composition, finally leaving only a line drawing. Each artist took away a key stylistic feature of the preceding work, leaving Davila to take on the medium of painting. In doing so, he leaves behind solely the essence of Delacroix’s motif, a challenge for the next generation to double down on this meta-parody.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Cain, Abigail. "The Delacroix Masterpiece That Unites Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Jose Dávila." Artsy. October 17, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-the-delacroix-masterpiece-...
  2. Lobel, Michael. Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art. New Haven (Conn.): Yale University Press, 2002.
  3. "Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective." Art History | The Art Institute of Chicago. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://archive.artic.edu/lichtenstein/themes/Art-History.
  4. Searle, Adrian. "Roy Lichtenstein: Too Cool for School?" The Guardian. February 18, 2013. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/feb/18/roy-lichtenstein-ta....
mbaa's picture

Contributor

You’ll find Roy Lichtenstein’s name right up there with the other founding fathers of the '60s Pop art tradition.

Think of Benday dots, weepy cartoon women and the rise of comic art. Yep, he’s that guy. We weren’t really thinking of him when we saw this painting. And we aren’t exactly wrong, but we’ll tell you about that later. Just look closer and give your eyes about a minute, and you’ll begin to see what we’re talking about. Lichtenstein painted Femme d’Alger in 1963.

Roy’s palette has a characteristic American flavor. You’re lying if you think you don’t share his spirit. We know of that particularly tasteful pair of Ye Ol’ Star Spangled Banner underpants you have hidden in your closet. We know you secretly don them on the 4th of July. No judgment on the underwear, but that's the color scheme Roy was going for.

Femme d’Alger is not simply Lichtenstein’s baby. Eugene Delacroix first painted Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement in 1834. He had been traveling across Algeria; back then it was owned by the French (he probably didn’t even need a visa). He had signed up for a walking tour of the Muslim part of town. It was here that Delacroix saw the women of Algiers in their apartment. His privilege as a white French man went unchecked as was usual in his day. He created an image that screamed invasion of privacy, not that he cared. For Delacroix, these women were a specimen of exotic beauty.

Roy, on the other hand, didn’t really care much for fetishizing exotic women. He preferred the sorrow of American women. As per the Nigerian proverb, a devil known is better than an angel unknown. Like that time you booty called your crazy cheating ex instead of the semi-cute stranger you met at the coffee shop. “It’s just safer" you said to yourself. It isn’t.

Roy didn’t paint Femme d’Alger because of Delacroix. He did it for Picasso. Pablo ‘cubist visionary’ Picasso created a series of 15 paintings in an attempt to get over Henri Mattise’s death in 1954. Picasso and Matisse had a strange relationship, they were friends but they were also rivals. Picasso once compared Mattise’s Vence Chapel designs to a bathroom. Yeah. It was that kind of strange. Picasso put brush to canvas six weeks after the funeral. He called it Les Femmes d'Alger. He told Roland Penrose, “When he[Matisse] died, he left me his odalisques as a legacy, and this is my idea of the Orient, though I have never been there.” They were the kind of frenemies we wished we had. We’d get so much work done.

So Roy is on this righteous path to revisit some old heroes. In the words of Harry Cooper, “It was really, Picasso he attacked first.” Roy is ready for his cubist adventure and he chooses, you guessed it, Femme d’Alger. In his version, Roy imagines interrupted loneliness much like a train station. For a few moments, you will be alone, but there’ll always be someone at the platform.

Roy was fixated to the idea of the lonely woman, always suffering. Isabel Wilson was Roy’s first wife. They separated in 1961 while she struggled to fight off a nasty drinking habit. Letty Eisenhauer, Roy’s lover from 1964-1965, spoke to Alastair Sooke about the time that she and Roy were together. She told Sooke, “I think Roy was always very angry with Isabel. The crying girls are what he wanted women to be. He wanted to make you cry, and he did — he made me cry”.

For Roy, who was the Algerian woman in the apartment? Is she one of his crying girls? Alone, tormented, and busy. Or is she simply an exotic woman with exotic problems? Alone, tormented and different.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. "The Art Institute of Chicago." Femme D'Alger | The Art Institute of Chicago. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://archive.artic.edu/lichtenstein/203845.
  2. Tate. "Two Masters, One Friendship: The Story of Matisse and Picasso: Stories from the Studio – Essay." Tate. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/henri-matisse-1593/two-masters-one-f....
  3. Richardson, John, and John Richardson. "Between Picasso and Matisse." Vanity Fair. March 18, 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2003/02/picasso-matisse200302.
  4. Stamberg, Susan. "One Dot At A Time, Lichtenstein Made Art Pop." NPR. October 15, 2012. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2012/10/15/162807890/one-dot-at-a-time-lichtenstein-....
  5. Solomon, Deborah. "THE ART BEHIND THE DOTS." The New York Times. March 08, 1987. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/08/magazine/the-art-behind-the-dots.html.
  6. Sooke, Alastair. "Roy Lichtenstein's Lover: "He Wanted to Make Women Cry"." The Telegraph. February 18, 2013. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9857640/Roy-Lichtensteins-lover-....