Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Lichtenstein is best known for importing the vocabulary of comic strips and commercial advertising into the more exalted realm of oil painting on canvas, an art christened "Pop" when it made its debut in the early 1960s. However, Lichtenstein did not limit his foraging to the world of vernacular imagery but became an agile and dedicated trafficker in the history of art. Still Life with Goldfish belongs to a series of still-life paintings he made between 1972 and 1974 that take as the point of departure the work of Henri Matisse.
This canvas offers an interpretation of a painting close at hand to Lichtenstein: Matisse's Goldfish, of 1914-15, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Matisse seems to have discovered for Western art the intriguing motif of the goldfish bowl, and since then it has become singularly identified with him and a favorite object of Lichtenstein's appropriations. From Matisse's painting, Lichtenstein borrowed the central element of the cylindrical bowl holding two swimming red fish, placed atop a small table. He also repeated the fruit beside it and the scrolled grillwork of the balcony beyond the open window. Extending Matisse's penchant for inserting images of his previous paintings into new ones, Lichtenstein has slyly slipped in a drawing of a woman by Matisse completely unrelated to Goldfish. However, Lichtenstein's painting eschews the sensuous color and texture of Matisse's surfaces and the moodiness of Matisse's hesitations and reworkings. The slick surface of Lichtenstein's smooth acrylic paint and the flat sections of unmixed colors produce an image that is wholly confident and clear. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 120.