Is he the worst artist in America? asked a Life magazine article about Roy Lichtenstein in 1964. Although Lichtenstein is now considered one of the pioneers of Pop Art – as important as his contemporaries Andy Warhol and Keith Haring – his work was not always so well received. His personal life, likewise, could be as dramatic as the comic-book romances that he painted. Here are some key facts about Lichtenstein’s life, from his cultured childhood to the break-up that inspired some of his most famous paintings.

Roy Lichtenstein in 1967

Roy Lichtenstein in 1967

When was Roy Lichtenstein born?

Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born in New York on 27 October 1923 (which makes him a Scorpio) to Jewish German immigrants. His father was a real estate broker while his mother was a homemaker. As a child, he visited museums and concerts with his mother and younger sister, developing a lifelong love of jazz and art. Among his favourite artworks growing up was Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, which he saw while the painting was on long-term loan at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Lichtenstein would pay homage to Picasso’s portraits in his own art later, declaring Cubism as one of his biggest sources of inspiration.

Forms In Space by Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein’s Forms In Space, 1985

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Did Roy Lichtenstein study art?

For such a ground-breaking artist, Lichtenstein’s education and artistic training were surprisingly traditional. He attended art classes as a teenager and later studied art at Ohio State University, where he received formal training in painting. Years later, he recalled that his professor, artist Hoyt Sherman, was his ‘earliest important influence’ who taught him ‘how to go about learning how to look’.

At the start of his Pop Art career, Lichtenstein realised his education embedded in him some prejudices on what art ought to be. Having been “more or less schooled as an Abstract Expressionist”, in the artist’s own words, he recalled that his paintings of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were “brave, risky and so far from anything I’d been taught in art schools. It was saying something about real life, and it wasn’t done as a joke. But I knew that it couldn’t be taken seriously.”

Shipboard Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein’s Shipboard Girl, 1965

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What were Roy Lichtenstein’s influences?

In 1966, Lichtenstein said that Cubism, Cartooning and Commercial Art were his clearest influences. Although he is best known for his comic book style artworks, Lichtenstein was inspired by more than just American pop culture – he also referenced art history, ranging from classical Chinese scroll paintings to Abstract Expressionism.

“Artists have often converted the work of other artists into their own style,” Lichtenstein admitted. He has recreated art historical masterpieces from Claude Monet’s Haystacks to Picasso’s portraits and Jackson Pollock’s sweeping brushstrokes in his signature Benday dots. “I’m interested in my work’s redeveloping these classical ways, except that it’s not classical, it’s like a cartoon,” Lichtenstein said, hinting that the idea of contrast was also an influence for him. “I’m interested because of the impact it has when you look at it.”

Haystack #7 by Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein’s Haystacks #7, 1969

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Was Roy Lichtenstein married?

In 1949, Lichtenstein married his first wife Isabel Wilson, with whom he had two sons. The couple separated in 1962. Dramatic paintings of romance and conflict ­– from explosive war scenes like Whaam! to the heartbroken Drowning Girl and Engagement Rings – soon followed, possibly a reflection of Lichtenstein’s own hopes and disappointments surrounding his personal life. “I was interested in anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong. Usually love, war, or something that was highly charged and emotional subject matter,” the artist later recalled.

Lichtenstein married his second wife Dorothy Herzka in 1968. They lived together in Southampton, New York, from 1970 until Lichtenstein’s death in 1997. Dorothy is now president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl, 1963

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How did Roy Lichtenstein die?

Lichtenstein died on 29 September 1997, after weeks of battling pneumonia. He was 73 years old. He had just exhibited new pieces at the Venice Biennale and in Boston, and was preparing for a retrospective at Tate Modern in London. One of his final works, Interior with Nude Leaving, suggested he was beginning to experiment with new compositions and styles.

The Den from Interior Series by Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein’s The Den (published 1991) from the Interior series

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