Pop icon Roy Lichtenstein began his artistic career as an abstract expressionist painter exploring ideas of spontaneity. He soon became known for his prints and paintings inspired by commercial and popular culture. Although the majority of Lichtenstein’s artworks maintain a certain air of parody, the thematic contents of his early prints differ greatly from his later artistic output. His reinterpretation of art history began with a series of portraits appropriating traditional paintings showing cavalries and battles.
To Battle from 1950 precedes Knight with Lady and Approaching the Castle, presenting a boldly gouged woodcut rendition of a knight’s tale. Executed on Kraft paperboard, Lichtenstein’s orange and blue composition is of an exceedingly narrative nature. Capturing knights on horseback, cheered on by seraphs flying ahead, the print depicts a hoard of semi-fantastical characters storming a castle. The absurd proportions and mythical shapes elevate this print from serious to comedic.
To Battle’s borrowed medieval iconography pokes fun at traditional Western portraits featuring similar subject matter. Additionally, the print also mirrors the layout of elaborate 15th century textiles and tapestries chronicling historical conquests. Although the figures may appear squared and hard-edged, the artist’s joyful rendering of the scene lends the work a whimsical quality.