John Wesley - Contemporary Art Part II New York Friday, May 13, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Germany; Zwirner & Wirth, New York; Private Collection, Switzerland; Sale: New York, Sotheby's, Contemporary Art Day Auction, November 12, 2009, Lot 244

  • Exhibited

    New York, Zwirner & Wirth, John Wesley: A Collection, May - June 2006

  • Literature

    Exh. Cat., Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen, Bestände Onnasch, 1992, p. 82 (illustrated); Exh. Cat., Frankfurt am Main, Portikus, John Wesley Paintings Gemälde 1963-1992 Gouaches 1961-1992, 1993, p. 123 (illustrated); T. R. Myers, John Wesley: A Collection, Zwirner & Wirth, New York 2006, n.p., (illustrated) G. Celant, et al., John Wesley, Milan 2009, fig. 138, pp. XXXVI (illustrated) and no. 421, p. 256 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The reclining nude has been recognized throughout history as the most iconic representation of the female form. As her body spans the canvas, she presents herself and invites her viewers to study her long form, luminous skin, and enigmatic smile. Since her inception in Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, we have seen her gazing in a mirror or draped across a chaise lounge, practicing a range of ordinary and routine frivolities. The century long debates that accompany the nude are not primarily motivated by her state of undress, but the awareness that the sitter has of herself and the looming question of whether we are invited guests or unwelcome voyeurs.

    While transcending every major art historical movement, the reclining nude emerged as the main figure of Art Nouveau, with Gustav Klimt as her greatest admirer. His graphic and painterly rendering of her figure was highly innovative and intensely controversial: for the first time, the iconic female nude was rendered in a shifted pose with hints of eroticism in her every gesture. With her leg extended across the bed and her back slightly arched, she provocatively gazes at her viewers over a bare shoulder. Her splayed posture further intensified the controversy surrounding the sitter’s awareness. In Water Serpent II, 1904-1907 (fig. 1), she appears in two forms: turned away with gaze obscured, and staring directly at the viewer. In the latter, we are privileged guests to her bare body, while her former position makes us feel as though we were uninvited guests.

    In the present lot, 3 Sunbathers, 1982, John Wesley has echoed this historical phenomenon in an exciting and modern way. Like Klimt’s Water Serpent II, 1904 - 1907 (fig. 1), we see multiple forms of the subject lying on her stomach in a perfectly parallel composition. This time her face is concealed by a crown of black hair, obscuring her eyes and any recognition she may have of her viewers. Wesley’s animated style and sporadic use of color add a sense of irony to the emblematic image of the nude, as she lays face down. The bold outlining of her form further encourages a spirited cartoonish element, and the final touch of her rosy bottom offers a fresh and unfamiliar representation of the reclining nude. Wesley confronts the allegory of the nude with vitality and good humor, rendering her not only un-engaging with her viewer, but also terribly uninterested in anything but her tan.


3 Sunbathers

Acrylic on canvas.
41 1/4 x 55 1/8 in. (104.8 x 140 cm.)
Signed, titled and dated "3 Sunbathers, John Wesley, 1982" on the reverse.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Contemporary Art Part II

13 May 2011
New York