We tend to think of appropriation as a postmodern thing, with artists in all media drawing on, referring to, and mashing up the most influential works of the past. But we forget that this has been happening for centuries — millennia, actually — as Renaissance painters paid tribute to Greek art, ideas circulated within the 19th-century French art scene, and Dada hijacked the course of art history, mocking and inverting everything that came before it. After the jump, we round up some of the best, most famous, and all-around strangest artworks inspired by other artworks. Some are homages, some are parodies, some are responses, and a few seem to function as all three.
Paul Gaugin’s Spirit of the Dead Walking, inspired by Édouard Manet’s Olympia
Édouard Manet caused an uproar when he debuted his painting Olympia at a Paris salon in 1865. But it wasn’t the subject’s nudity that scandalized viewers — it was her steely, straight-ahead gaze and details like the flower and shawl that suggest she’s a courtesan. The image has been taken up by a number of artists over the years, including Paul Gaugin, whose 1892 painting Spirit of the Dead Walking shows a subject who is, in the words of Dr. Jeanne S.M. Willette, “flipped over opposite of Manet’s Olympia, denied the autonomy and the confrontation of the courtesan of the Salon of 1865.”
Édouard Manet’s Olympia, inspired by Titian’s Venus of Urbino
Of course, Manet wasn’t the first artist to paint a reclining nude staring straight back at the viewer. Olympia takes cues from Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which dates back to 1538. But apparently no one in Renaissance Italy had a problem with this depiction, because its subject was a goddess. In fact, the painting is thought to have been created as a sort of romantic instruction manual for the Duke of Urbino’s young wife-to-be.
Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa
Nothing was sacred to the Dadaists, so of course Marcel Duchamp took aim at history’s most famous portrait. His Mona Lisa, from 1919, is a postcard-size reproduction that defaces the work with a beard and mustache. The title, L.H.O.O.Q., would sound something like “elle a chaud au cul” when pronounced — or “she has a hot ass” in French.
Fountain (After Duchamp) by Sherrie Levine, inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain
Dadaists were also the original meme generators, so when Duchamp turned over a urinal, signed it, and submitted it for exhibition at the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, he created a theme on which there have been countless variations. Since we were fairly sure you didn’t want to watch any performance artist pee in the fountain — yes, more than one visionary has made his mark on the art world in this way — here’s “appropriation artist” Sherrie Levine’s 1991 Fountain (After Duchamp). A description by the Walker Art Center explains, “Levine’s sculpture is a contemporary urinal cast in the sculptor’s traditional precious metal, bronze. Polished to a brilliant shine, this piece is no longer a common, store-bought item; it has been transformed by the artist into a unique object.”
Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper
Another of Da Vinci’s most famous paintings, his mural The Last Supper has been an endless source of inspiration for artists and pop-culture parodists. But it’s Andy Warhol who elevated this depiction of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples to pop art iconography. The brainchild of an art dealer, Alexander Iolas, his Last Supper paintings were commissioned by and hung in a Milanese bank. Appropriately enough, they also comprised Warhol’s last series.
Joan Miró’s The Tilled Field, inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights
The resemblance between Joan Miró’s Surrealist painting and Bosch’s Early Netherlander triptych may not be as clear as the parallels between some of the other works on this list, but when you know what to look for, the resemblance is certainly there. Besides the colors, which do echo The Garden of Earthly Delights, Miró placed in his painting many objects that appear in Bosch’s — crudely sexualized figures, disembodied ears, flocks of birds. Although the styles are different, both have the same busy, chaotic energy.
Claude Monet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, inspired by Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
Now back to Manet, whose Olympia wasn’t his only scandalous painting to inspire an homage. Just two years before shocking the bourgeoisie with that image, he unveiled Le déjeuner sur l’herbe — a picture that seems almost as jarring now as it must have been then, its female nude (who is, again, staring at the viewer) picnicking with a pair of fully clothed men. Once again, Manet took cues from Renaissance paintings by the likes of Giorgionne and Titian, while his contemporary, Claude Monet was moved to create a Déjeuner sur l’herbe. While the male guests at Manet’s luncheon are the artist’s brother and brother-in-law, Monet included the painter Gustave Courbet (and some boringly clothed ladies) in his.
Elmgreen & Dragset’s Han, inspired by Edvard Eriksen’s The Little Mermaid
For nearly a century, Edvard Eriksen’s The Little Mermaid — based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale and its ballet adaptation — has stared out at Copenhagen’s harbor alone. But as of this year, the iconic statue has a companion, and his name is Han. Created by London- and Berlin-based team Elmgreen & Dragset, the shiny, stainless steel boy sits on a man-made rock of his own, 28 miles away from The Little Mermaid in Elsinore, on Denmark’s island of Zealand. For some reason, we can’t stop imagining the statues singing “Somewhere Out There” to each other late at night.
Tobias Stengel’s Die Woge, inspired by Katsukisha Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa
On a similarly nautical note, here’s Tobias Stengel’s Die Woge, a sculptural riff on Hokusai’s world-famous Edo Period woodblock print. Located in Dresden since 2006, Stengel’s work commemorates the flooding of the Elbe River four years earlier.
Roy Lichtenstein’s Bedroom at Arles, inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles
Another pop art appropriation, Lichtenstein’s 1992 work Bedroom at Arles is an odd take on the 1888 original. Created approximately a century later but done in the style of a woodcut, it imposes Lichtenstein’s graphic aesthetic and saturated colors on Van Gogh’s pale oil painting, replacing the latter’s anxious lines with the former’s cold, bold, straight ones. Equal parts parody and tribute, it underlines how different two takes on the same subject matter can be.