Lichtenstein’s Foot Medicine (1962)

Graham Bader, the most insightful of the Lichtenstein specialists, has drawn attention to images, such as Mail-Order Foot (1961), Foot Medication and others "in which the hand reaching from outside is either explicitly or implicitly engaged in some form of image-making...." Here the hand holds not a pencil or knife but a sponge or cottonball, an amorphous white shape. Bader is right about the action involved but unaware of this shape's long heritage in art. A little background is required.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Lichtenstein, Foot Medication (1962) Frottage and graphite pencil on paper. Menil Collection, Houston

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The most overlooked and little-known tool used by painters is the white cloth with which they wipe paint off canvas, smudge it in, or rub it on. Here (clockwise from top left) you can see a cloth in use by four different artists: Francesco Salviati (1510-1563), Judith Leyster (1609-1660), J-D. Ingres (1780-1867) and Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) who has it at hand in his back-pocket.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Francesco Salviati, Portrait of a Man, once considered a self-portrait
Top R: Judith Leyster, Self-portrait (c.1630) Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Bottom L: After Ingres, Self-portrait (1804) Oil on canvas.
Bottom R: Norman Rockwell, Triple Self-portrait (1959) Oil on canvas. Norman Rockwell Museum 

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Disguised as something else metaphorically, the white cloth becomes a handkerchief in the hands of figures by Salviati and Ingres (top images) and Manet (lower right). In each instance the figure is "the artist" painting the back ground or other figures.

Julie Forestier (Ingres' fiancé, top right) was an artist herself and the shading under her cloth and arm implies their positioning above the drawing's surface. The arm is "creating" the drawing itself. I have shown separately how Courbet's bather (lower left) and Manet's woman (lower right) are artists too.2 In Courbet's the cloth is a white towel but with a corner held in front of the woman as a cloth is held by a painter.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Francesco Salviati, Portrait of a Man, detail (c.1540-50) Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum, New York

Top Rt: Ingres, The Forestier Family, detail (1806) Pencil on paper. Louvre, Paris

Bottom L: Courbet, Bathers, detail (1853) Oil on canvas. Musée Fabre, Montpellier

Bottom R: Manet, Before the Mirror, detail (1876) Oil on canvas. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Painters can also use a sponge instead of a cloth or just bare hands. Whatever is used, the act of cleaning oneself has often been turmed to metaphorical use, as in Dürer's image of women engraving themselves as they clean themselves (top left). The hand of the principal woman is curled to suggest that its four visible fingers engrave the parallel lines shading her buttock. The other examples by Cézanne, Renoir and Bonnard use white towels for a similar purpose. Renoir's woman (lower left) clearly seems to be "painting" herself. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Dürer, The Women's Bath, detail (c.1496) Engraving on paper

Top R: Cézanne, The Three Bathers, detail (1879-82) Oil on canvas. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

Lower L: Renoir, After the Bath (1888) Oil on canvas. Private Collection, Japan
Bottom R: Bonnard, After the Bath, detail (1810) Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum, New York

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Lichtenstein, the Pop artist, was clearly aware of how cloths, sponges and cleaning had been used in art. So he searched for images which he could turn into scenes of his androgynous mind at work: settings in which he appeared as a woman (both model and artist) painting. His woman cleaning the refigerator (top right) appears to "draw lines" as artists do. In the Bath scene, lower right, the tiled wall is "squared-up" like a prepared canvas while also looking natural in a bathroom. The shadow on the wall, incidentally, is shaped like a lower-case r for Roy while the linear borders of adjacent tiles form multiple L-shapes for Lichtenstein. The women then, like the hand in Foot Medication (left) applying some lotion to a foot, are yet another alter ego of Lichtenstein.

For close variations on Foot Medicine's themes, see my blog on "The Story of Degas' Sponge" and the entry on Degas' Woman Drying Her Foot (1885-6).




 

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Lichtenstein, Foot Medication, detail
Top: Lichtenstein, The Refrigerator, detail (1962) Oil on canvas.
Bottom: Lichtenstein, Woman in a Bath, detail (1963) Magna on canvas. Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Notes:

1. The portrait by Salviati (top left) is no longer considered a self-portrait which only goes to show the amount of uncertainty concerning both the figure's action, the purpose of the cloth and the facial identity of an artist's sitters. The reason so many portraits used to be considered self-portraits is that artists often fuse their own facial features into someone else's portrait. At the very least Salviati's painting should now be known as Portrait of an Artist.

2. Simon Abrahams, Courbet's Bathers (1853), published online 20th Nov. 2010; Abrahams, Manet's Before the Mirror (1876), published online 27th Oct. 2010.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 05 Mar 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.