The Death of Jane McCrea
(1951, oil on canvas, by Roy Lichtenstein)
Tacoma Art Museum
Roy Lichtenstein had a superhuman gift for neutralizing drama, but even for him, this painting is a feat. It's early, before the comic-book painting began, and it's almost never seen: his version of an 1804 John Vanderlyn picture of a woman on her knees in a clearing, her right breast pushing out of her dress the moment before she is scalped by a pair of beefy savages. Her name is Jane McCrea. Word spread fast in 1777 of her death at the hands of native scouts for the British, making propaganda for American rebels. Lichtenstein scalped Vanderlyn's original, reducing swollen melodrama to limp synthetic cubism. Jane is bored, and the ghostface to her right can't remember why he lifted his weapon. In a nice cartoon connection, Jane may be the long-lost sister of none other than Charlie Brown, who was born four years earlier. If she has a thought in her head, it can only be, "Good grief."