The Violin

1976

Object

Artist

Roy Lichtenstein, American, 1923-1997
Born: New York, NY
Work Locations: New York, NY

Country

  • United States

Object Info

Object: painting
Not currently on view
Object ID: 1981.632

Medium/Technique

Oil paint and Magna on canvas

Credit

Funds from Jan and Frederick R. Mayer, Mr. and Mrs. Aron B. Katz, Mr. and Mrs. Donald S. Graham, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Addison and Anonymous Donors.
Artwork(s) © copyright the original artist, artist's estate or associated foundation. All rights reserved.

About

About the Artist

Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1923. He began his art studies in his hometown and moved to Ohio in 1940 to further his education. He served in the army from 1943 to 1946, but resumed his studies upon his return and obtained an MFA in 1949. Early in his career, Lichtenstein worked as an engineering draftsman, and throughout his life, spent many years teaching.

Lichtenstein was one of the leading artists of the American Pop Art movement that began in the early 1960s. During this time, a number of artists in the United States turned away from abstraction and began to incorporate subject matter from mainstream culture. Lichtenstein’s artwork often includes elements such as comic strip figures, lettering, and speech balloons; Ben-Day dots; and images from advertisements. By the 1970s, Lichtenstein turned his attention to creating paintings that referenced the art of early 20th century masters while maintaining his trademark style. It was during this time that he painted The Violin, a canvas that is reminiscent of Cubist artworks.

Speaking about his artistic style, Lichtenstein said, “I think we are living in a society that, to a large extent, is pop...a new landscape of billboards, neon signs, literature, television, and radio. It seems to be made up partially of the desire to sell products. This is the landscape that I am interested in portraying. Not only portraying it, but working in the style of it.”

What Inspired It

In 1973, Lichtenstein began a series of Cubist still lifes, translating them into his own modern style. When he painted The Violin, he may have been looking at earlier paintings created by Cubist artists, such as Pablo Picasso. Cubist artists reduced their forms and experimented with ways to represent three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. In addressing this dilemma, Cubist artists attempted to simultaneously render multiple perspectives on a flat surface.

Lichtenstein always admired the work of Picasso, though he tried to escape his influence. He explained:

Picasso’s always been such a huge influence that I thought when I started the cartoon paintings that I was getting away from Picasso, and even my cartoons of Picasso were done to rid myself of his influence. I don’t think that I’m over his influence but they probably don’t look like Picassos; Picasso himself would probably have thrown up looking at my pictures.

Lichtenstein argued that even the cartoons he used as sources for his work were influenced by Cubism, “because the hard-edged character which is brought about by the printing creates a kind of cubist look.”

Additionally, Lichtenstein’s modern sensibility was inspired by the landscape of his time. The flat, dotted areas in The Violin mimic the industrial texture found in print advertising and comic books. In using these methods, he threw out the nostalgic, familiar feeling of thick paint that is often associated with fine art.

Diagonal and Curved Lines
Diagonal and Curved Lines

The many lines in this image activate the painting, giving it a sense of dynamic motion. The diagonal lines may reference a bow energetically gliding up and down the strings of a violin. The curved lines representing the tailpiece of the violin imply the instrument is moving up and down as the musician vigorously plays. The repetition of the curly-cue lines on the right, which represent the scroll of the violin, also implies motion.

Ben-Day Dots
Ben-Day Dots

If you look closely at printed comics from the 1950s and ‘60s, you’ll notice that the colored areas are made up of tiny dots. Lichtenstein imitated these dots in his paintings by blowing the dots up to thumbnail size, making a screen stencil with holes of varying sizes, and using a toothbrush to paint through the holes. With these dots, Lichtenstein gave his oil paintings the look of mass-printed images that seem anonymous and mechanical.

Pieces of a Violin
Pieces of a Violin

The subject of this painting is a violin, but it is not your ordinary violin. Diagonal lines shatter it into pieces. As our eyes attempt to put the instrument back together we start to see evidence of its existence. To the left we see the curved lines of the tailpiece and the partial F-Holes, and to the right we see curly-cue lines that represent the scroll of the violin, which is moving up and down. In the bottom middle of the composition we see a small eighth note.

Pencil Marks
Pencil Marks

Lichtenstein’s style alludes to photomechanical reproduction processes, but his paintings are entirely handmade. He began The Violin with a small sketch to help him plot out the painting. He then projected the three-by-five-inch sketch onto a large canvas and penciled it in. You can still see his pencil marks on the painting near the curled lines on the right.

Teaching Resources

This CBS feature is an introduction to Lichtenstein's artwork and his creative inspiration.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.