To many people, Roy Lichtenstein's paintings based on comic strips are synonymous with Pop Art. These depictions of characters in tense, dramatic situations are intended as ironic commentaries on modern man's plight, in which mass media — magazines, advertisements, and television — shapes everything, even our emotions. Lichtenstein also based paintings on well-known masterpieces of art, perhaps commenting, as did Andy Warhol in his Mona Lisa, on the conversion of art into commodity. Like Warhol, Lichtenstein, who had an art-school background, also worked as a commercial artist and graphic designer (1951–57), an experience that influenced the subject matter of his later paintings. Lichtenstein's fame as a Pop artist began with his first one-man exhibition, at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1962, and continued to characterize his career throughout his life.
Stepping Out is marked by Lichtenstein's customary restriction to the primary colors and to black and white, by his thick black outlines, and by the absence of any shading except that provided by the dots imitating those used to print comic strips. Yet beneath the simplicity of means and commonplace subject matter lies a sophisticated art founded on a great deal of knowledge and skill. Lichtenstein here depicts a man and woman, side by side, both quite dapperly dressed. The male is based on a figure in Fernand Léger's painting Three Musicians of 1944 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), but seen in mirror image. He wears a straw hat, high-collared shirt, and striped tie; the flower in his lapel is borrowed from another Léger painting. The female figure, with her dramatically reduced and displaced features, resembles the Surrealistic women depicted by Picasso during the 1930s. Her face has been reduced to a single eye set on its side, a mouth, and a long lock of cascading blond hair.
The composition of Stepping Out is complex and rather elaborate. The figures, while quite different in appearance and style of dress, are united through shape and color: the sweeping curve of the woman's hair is answered by the curve of her companion's lapel; the diagonal yellow of the end of her scarf is echoed in the yellow rectangle that covers the top of his face; the red Benday dots cover half of both faces; and the black that serves as background for the man invades the area behind the woman.
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Artist:Roy Lichtenstein (American, New York 1923–1997 New York)
Medium:Oil and Magna on canvas
Dimensions:86 3/4 × 70 1/8 in. (220.3 × 178.1 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, Arthur Lejwa Fund, in honor of Jean Arp; and The Bernhill Fund, Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Inc., Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation Inc., Walter Bareiss, Marie Bannon McHenry, Louise Smith, and Stephen C. Swid Gifts, 1980
Inscription: Signed and dated (verso): rf Lichtenstein / '78
the artist, Southampton, N.Y. (1978–80; sold through Leo Castelli Gallery, New York to MMA)
Washington, D.C. Corcoran Gallery of Art. "Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The 36th Biennial Exhibition of the Corcoran Gallery of Art," February 24–April 8, 1979.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Recent Acquisitions from the Department of Twentieth Century Art," October 16, 1979–January 30, 1980, no catalogue (lent by the artist).
Saint Louis Art Museum. "Roy Lichtenstein: 1970–1980," May 8–June 28, 1981, unnumbered cat. (p. 123).
Seattle Art Museum. "Roy Lichtenstein: 1970–1980," July 16–September 6, 1981, unnumbered cat.
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Roy Lichtenstein: 1970–1980," September 22–November 29, 1981, unnumbered cat.
Fort Worth Art Museum. "Roy Lichtenstein: 1970–1980," December 16, 1981–February 7, 1982, unnumbered cat.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "30 Painters: Recent Acquisitions (formerly titled ‘Given and Promised’)," January 26–March 14, 1982, brochure no. 18 [added to the exhibition on February 9, 1982].
Cologne. Josef-Haubrich Kunsthalle. "Roy Lichtenstein: 1970–1980," March 10–April 25, 1982, unnumbered cat. [on view from March 18, 1982].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design," December 14, 1983–September 2, 1984, unnum. checklist (installed in galleries of Costume Institute exhibition).
Venice. Biennale. "Arte e arti, attualité e storia: XLI Esposizione internazionale d'arte," June 10–September 9, 1984.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Selection One: Twentieth-Century Art," February 1–April 30, 1985, no catalogue.
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Roy Lichtenstein," October 7, 1993–January 16, 1994, no. 195.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. "Roy Lichtenstein," January 30–April 3, 1994, no. 195.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Roy Lichtenstein," May 26–September 5, 1994, no. 195.
Munich. Haus der Kunst. "Roy Lichtenstein," October 13, 1994–January 9, 1995.
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