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Lichtenstein and China: Asian Art Influence in Modern American Art

Did you know that Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) was inspired by Chinese art and landscapes? Check out a new display in the CMA’s Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy gallery (240 A) that focuses on the role of Asian art in the evolution of modern American art. In addition to Lichtenstein, see works by Abstract Expressionist Norman Lewis (1909–1979), and photographer Lois Conner (born 1951), alongside examples of Chinese art and landscapes. 

Landscape with Boats, 1996. Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997), color lithograph and screenprint, Sheet: 89.9 x 165 cm (35 3/8 x 64 15/16 in.); Image: 70.8 x 147.4 cm (27 13/16 x 58 in.). Gift of the Helen Greene Perry Charitable Trust in honor of Katharine Lee Reid 2000.101 © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

When Lichtenstein began working on his Landscapes in the Chinese Style series, he said, “I am thinking about something like Chinese landscapes with mountains a million miles high, and a tiny fishing boat—something scroll-like, and horizontal with graduated dots making these mountains, and dissolving into mist and haze. It will look like Chinese scroll paintings, but all mechanical.” 

Cloudy Mountains, 1130. Mi Youren (Chinese, 1072–1151), Handscroll, ink and color on silk. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1933.220

Cloudy Mountains (detail), 1130. Mi Youren (Chinese, 1072–1151), Handscroll, ink and color on silk. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1933.220

Lichtenstein was living in Cleveland when curator Sherman Lee presented the international exhibition Chinese Landscape Painting at the museum in 1954. The handscroll Cloudy Mountains, featured above, was on display then and is now rolled out again. Cloudy Mountains pictures a lush and misty riverscape from the Lower Yangzi Delta in Southeast China. This scroll is one of the museum’s earliest dated Chinese paintings and major works of art. 

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