The National Portrait Gallery holds approximately 2,000 objects of original art created for reproduction on the covers of Time magazine. In 1968 Time commissioned Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein to make two covers at the same time: a portrait of Robert F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign and a picture of a smoking gun for a feature story on gun violence. Lichtenstein rarely accepted commissions or made portraits. Kennedy had mobilized the antiwar movement with his campaign, however, and the artist admired his energy. Lichtenstein accepted the magazine commissions, although he thought the process a bit too commercial. This amused him because some critics thought his art work too commercial.
Kennedy appeared on the May 24, 1968, Time cover and was assassinated a few weeks later. Ironically, the image of the gun ran on the cover shortly after. A copy of the issue of Time and the color proofs created for the Kennedy cover are on view in the Portrait Gallery’s exhibition “Face Value,” which runs through January 11, 2015.
Lichtenstein created the design for the magazine cover in four color separations (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) in his signature comic-book style. The artist worked out the design in a series of black-and-white preparatory drawings, photo reproductions, photographs, and collage. The artist’s method was similar to the way he approached his paintings, in which the drawings described the final design and color choices for the artwork.
There is one black-and-white primary drawing on illustration board and four black-and-white overlay drawings on translucent paper executed in felt-tip markers over graphite, some with brushed matte paint and collage elements such as Lichtenstein’s printed dot paper.
The primary drawing was used to create a photo reproduction that served as the underlay image for the overlay drawings created for each separate color. The drawings were photographed with a large-format graphic arts camera. The film was used to make the printing plates for the magazine. The color proofs—four sheets of acetates and dyes—were processed, overlaid, and registered for the artist’s approval prior to making the printing plates.
In 1989 Time magazine asked Lichtenstein to make a color lithograph of the Kennedy portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, possibly because of the instability of the materials. Before this, the color proofs and the magazine cover were the only existing examples of the final image.
After the proofs were made, Time realized that Kennedy’s hair was parted on the wrong side but decided not to have Lichtenstein redo the design.
“I thought your cover picture was really marvelous,” Kennedy wrote the artist after the work appeared on Time, “but I don’t have red spots all over my face.”
—Rosemary Fallon, Paper Conservator
April Bernard and Mimi Thompson, “Art: Interview with Roy Lichtenstein,” BOMB 14 (Winter 1986).
Rosemary Frank, Time magazine cover coordinator, notes in National Portrait Gallery Curatorial File.
Robert F. Kennedy, telegram to Roy Lichtenstein, May 24, 1968, Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, New York City.
Henri Zerner, The Graphic Art of Roy Lichtenstein (Cambridge, Mass.: Fogg Art Museum, 1975), 13.