10 Facts About Roy Lichtenstein's Water Lilies

An image of one of Lichtenstein's reinterpretations of a Water Lily, shown in thick lines against a patterned blue background.Water Lily © Roy Lichtenstein 1993
Louis Denizet

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Roy Lichtenstein emerged in the 1960s as one of the leading figures of the Pop Art movement, standing shoulder to shoulder with contemporaries like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. Born in 1923 in New York City, Lichtenstein's style was immediately recognisable by its utilisation of Ben-Day dots, bright primary colours and comic strip panels, bridging the gap between high art and popular culture. His renditions of works were sophisticated reimaginings that questioned authenticity, originality and the role of mass media in society – an approach is evident in his Water Lilies series, securing his place as a leader in 20th-century art.

1.

Lichtenstein created the Water Lilies in 1992

In Water Lilies – Pink Flower, Lichtenstein’s use of swirled reflective panels, layered forms, vertical panels of Ben Day dots, and diagonal lines combine to create the composition. The visuals suggest movement, light and shadow. Water Lilies – Pink Flower © Roy Lichtenstein 1992

This celebrated series comprises six screen-prints on stainless steel, reinterpreting an art historical motif while sticking to Lichtenstein's style – a work featuring elements simplified to their fundamental visual components. The organic shapes are emphasised through bold outlines and strong blocks of vibrant colour, although Lichtenstein slightly deviates from his signature use of primary colours alone.


2.

They were inspired by Claude Monet's famous Water Lilies

An image of Claude Monet's Water Lilies. Depicted in his typical Impressionist style, the flowers are shown floating in a reflective pond.Water Lilies © Claude Monet 1906

Lichtenstein's career had a long and prolific history of searching for inspiration and appropriating from other artists. In this series, he pays homage to iconic artist Claude Monet and, in particular, to the water lilies he Frenchman painstakingly painted over the course of several decades.

Monet, one of the founding figures of Impressionism, developed an enduring fascination with water lilies, dedicating the latter part of his career to capturing their beauty and serenity in a series of paintings. This fixation was deeply tied to his garden in Giverny, where he meticulously designed a lily pond that became the primary subject of his work. Through these paintings, Monet explored the interplay of light, reflection and colour, producing masterpieces that transcended mere representation to evoke the fluidity and impermanence of nature.

3.

Water Lilies was created late in Lichtenstein's career, a few years before his death

This image shows a print by Roy Lichtenstein. The dense composition incorporates thick diagonal lines, swirly patterns and Ben Day dots in saturated colours. Lichtenstein’s forms suggest vegetation and wood grain as well as the rippled and refracted surface of the water.Water Lilies With Cloud © Roy Lichtenstein 1992

By the '90s, Lichtenstein's career had been more than solid – his prominence had led to numerous retrospectives and global exhibitions, cementing his place in art history. Moreover, he undertook several public commissions, translating his signature style into larger architectural projects.

He would pass away five years after creating Water Lilies, in 1997.

4.

The works appear to shift colours in real life, due to the materials used

The reflective surface of Water Lilies - Blue Lily Pad incorporates a swirled stainless-steel picture plane, saturated vivid colours, and dense swathes of Ben Day dots. Water Lilies – Blue Lily Pads © Roy Lichtenstein 1992

Because Lichtenstein created this series in sheet metal, the light and colours are at constant interplay with one another. This allows Lichtenstein to harness Monet's Water Lilies transient and ephemeral nature, still transporting the motif into his Pop Art style.

5.

The series is in the collection of notable museums

Water Lilies with Willows presents tree bark, lily pads, cascading willows and reflections, rendered in thick outlines, swirls, diagonal patterning, and Ben Day dots.Water Lilies With Willows © Roy Lichtenstein 1992

These include the National Museum of Scotland and the Tate.

When a renowned museum acquires an artwork, it provides significant validation, boosting the piece's visibility and historical importance. This institutional endorsement further provides increased scholarly attention, preservation efforts and promotional activities by the museum, which can raise interest and demand.

6.

While getting inspiration from Monet, Water Lilies also gets inspiration from Japanese traditions

An image of the print Water Lilies with Japanese Bridge by Roy Lichtenstein, which uses a palette of flat synthetic primary colours, simplified shapes, Ben Day dots, and diagonal lines as the artist reinterprets the impressionistic landscape.Water Lilies With Japanese Bridge © Roy Lichtenstein 1992

His interposition of several colours and patterns give the impression of a collage or a woodcut print, reminiscent of Japanese art such as that from the ukiyo-e tradition.

7.

Lichtenstein saw these as an artistic challenge

Roy Lichtenstein at work on Water Lilies. He is wearing a blue button down shirt and has a ponytail.Image © YouTube / Roy Lichtenstein at work on Water Lilies

He is quoted as saying: "When I did paintings based on Monet’s I realised everyone would think that Monet was someone I could never do because his work has no outlines and it’s so Impressionistic. It’s laden with incredible nuance and a sense of the different times of day and it’s just completely different from my art. So, I don’t know, I smiled at the idea of making a mechanical Monet."

8.

Water Lilies builds on a recurring theme in Lichtenstein's career

The print Mirror by Roy Lichtenstein, which captures an enlarged circle rendered in bright primary colours, flattened against a white backdrop. The circular shape is populated with a gradation of blue dots, mimicking the reflective attributes of glass. The pattern is framed by jagged red, black and yellow lines.Mirror © Roy Lichtenstein 1972

Lichtenstein was preoccupied with reflections throughout much of his career and, in various ways, many works in the Water Lilies series are yet another instance of that.

This is perhaps most evident in the Mirrors paintings created between 1969 and 1972, and this theme persisted in the Reflection series of artworks – both in paintings and in prints – in the early 1990s.

9.

This was not the first time Lichtenstein was inspired by Monet

This image portrays a yellow stack of hay in the centre of the composition, and the main element in the middle is defined through thick black contouring. The backdrop of the print is densely populated by strategically positioned dots, thrusting the simplified comic book rendition of the haystack to the foreground of the work.Haystack © Roy Lichtenstein 1969

Lichtenstein had sought inspiration from Monet from an early stage in his career. Beginning in 1969, he created two series of prints after the French painter’s work, his Cathedral and Haystack series. In each of these, Lichtenstein puts his mechanical creative process in direct opposition to Monet's famous en plein aire methodology, which meticulously considered elements such as time of the day, lighting and season of the year.

10.

Monet is not the only artist that Lichtenstein sought inspiration from

Large swatches of exposed metal are interspersed with Water Lilies by Roy Lichtenstein.Water Lily Pond With Reflections © Roy Lichtenstein 1992

While most people are aware of Lichtenstein's appropriation of the work of comic book artists, he also sought inspiration from bigger names in the modern art world such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

By providing his own spin on these iconic artworks, Lichtenstein was sending a strong message about his own positioning in the history of art, and making a statement that Pop Art deserved to be appreciated just as any art movement before it.

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