Pop Art References to Traditional Painting

Dr. Phillip M. Feldman


I sometimes find myself suspecting that a work of art was inspired or influenced by an older work. There are cases, however, where the existence of a connection between two works of art is undeniable. This page is the start of a collection of examples of pop art references to classic paintings, as well as a few thoughts on why some works in this specialty genre "work", while others don't.

Consider the following two pairs of works. In case it isn't clear, the original paintings are on the left, and the corresponding Batman-themed pop art works are on the right.

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire
Ilya Repin, 1880-1891
Batman Villains, unknown artist
American Gothic, Grant Wood
American Gotham, Vartan Garnikyan

Any painting or drawing should demonstrate the artist's skill in the medium, but this isn't enough. It must tell a story that makes sense within some (possibly fictional) framework, and the viewer must be able to appreciate the piece on its own terms, without knowledge of the prior work to which it refers.

The Batman Villains is clever, and can be enjoyed even if one doesn't recognize it as a reference to the piece by Repin.

Despite the skillful execution (no pun intended), Garnikyan's American Gotham falls flat. Why? Because one cannot make any sense of the piece except as a reference to the Grant Wood painting. It cannot be appreciated on its own terms because there is no self-consistent framework in which the piece can be understood.

I invite readers to submit any examples consistent with the theme of this page.

Last update: 14 June, 2016