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  • Provenance

    Ursula Niggemann, Dusseldorf, acquired from the artist
    Private Collection, 1975
    Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art Day Auction, May 15, 2008, lot 316
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und Europäische Kunst der Sechziger und Siebziger Jahre, November 1983 - April 1984

  • Literature

    Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und Europäische Kunst der Sechziger und Siebziger Jahre, exh. cat., Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, 1984, cat. no. 278
    T. Levy, Mel Ramos, Heroines, Goddesses, Beauty Queens, Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2002, p. 219 (illustrated)
    D. Kuspit & L. Meisel, Mel Ramos: Pop-Art Fantasies, The Complete Paintings, New York, 2004, p. 151 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "All of my work sums up the fact that I really love women.”
    Mel Ramos, 2002

    Mel Ramos, a Sacramento native, is one of the most renowned West Coast Pop artists. Ramos’ paintings of superheroes and pinups were exhibited alongside the works of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Wayne Thiebaud and James Rosenquist. As opposed to artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol, who utilized the Ben-Day dots and silk-screening technique, Ramos embraced the content of Pop Art while still executing his paintings in a mock Old Master artistic manner. As a student of Wayne Thiebaud, Ramos earned critical appreciation early in his career and described, “In 1960 I was wallowing in despair when I gave up painting abstract expressionism and painted something that I used to love as a kid, American Super Heroes, and I did a painting of Superman. My life changed, Pop Art was born and I was caught up in the energy of it all.” (M. Folds, “Making the Most of Everything” in Mel Ramos/Artist Interview, Ragzine.cc, volume 10, Number 2)

    Ramos, along with Tom Wesselmann, tapped into the tradition of the art historical nude through the lens of American Pop Art. Together Ramos and Wesselmann “Americanized” the female nude figure and shifted the classical nude towards a more modern image of an American bombshell. Depicted with flawlessly tanned skin, luscious hair, pristinely whitened teeth, and winsome eyes, Ramos’ figures are straight out of an American pinup poster. By placing female nudes alongside consumer products and relocating them in art historical settings, Ramos created masterfully glossy compositions with an edge of comical flirtation. Ramos’ leggy female nudes are the essence of a carefree, tanned, California girl, often juxtaposed with commercial commodities, and infused with a healthy dose of American lewdness.

    Ramos has commented, “Of course there has been a long tradition in art of painting nude women, ranging from Rubens to Ingres, among many, many others.” (T.Levy, “Conversation between Mel Ramos and Belinda Grace Gardner in Dusseldorf, Germany (Spring, 2002) in Mel Ramos, Heroines, Goddesses, Beauty Queens, Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2002, p. 219). The present lot Rokeby Venus, is a modern interpretation of Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece and highlights Ramos’ painterly interests. Ramos explains that “For as long as I can remember, I was very fond of Spanish Painting, Velasquez, Goya, Salvador Dali. When I was fourteen I discovered Dali and I was amazed at his painting skills. It made me want to be an artist. I have always been interested in drawing the figure and I think of myself as a figure painter.” (M. Folds, “Making the Most of Everything” in Mel Ramos/Artist Interview, Ragzine.cc, volume 10, Number 2) The present lot depicts Venus lying in a sensual pose, lounging on crumpled, silky blue sheets. The luxurious folds in the bed sheets sweep across the composition, echoing the female form and emphasizing the curves of Venus‘ waist, thighs and back. In Velázquez’s painting Venus, the god of love is gazing into a mirror held up by her son Cupid, the Roman god of physical love. Velázquez’s Venus is rendered with brown hair while traditionally in earlier works, such as Peter Paul Ruben’s Venus at the Mirror, c. 1614–15, she is seen with a flowing blonde coif.

    Ramos’ painting returns to the classical imagery of Venus with a modern twist. She is depicted with long, lush, bleached blonde hair. She gazes at her reflection, her mouth slightly open, admiring her own sexual allure. Departing from the classical tradition of porcelain white nudes, Ramos’ Venus is perfectly tanned. The artist explains, “When you look at how the old masters painted skin and compare it to the way I go about it, you will find that there is a great difference. I don’t want my work to look like the paintings I am inspired by. I’m more interested in how the figure looks in the media, namely
    artificial. But then, the media figure is artificial.” (T.Levy, “Conversation between Mel Ramos and Belinda Grace Gardner in Dusseldorf, Germany (Spring, 2002) in Mel Ramos, Heroines, Goddesses, Beauty Queens, Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2002, p. 219). The mirror in this painting is held up by an ominous ape, his left hand steadying the wooden frame and his right hand straight up in the air as though to acknowledge the voyeuristic viewer. A departure from a mythological cupid, the monkey makes a subtle and witty comment on the evolution of human perception and the awareness of our own self-image. It also refers to the artistic mimicry that Ramos undertakes in restaging the famous painting by Velázquez.

    The motif of the mirror was critical to Pop artists, as it signified the reflective vanity and glossy veneer of the female in popular imagery and mass media. It appears in Roy Lichtenstein’s Mirrors and Refection, which Ramos had judged to be “brilliant.” Lichtenstein’s Self Portrait from 1978 also depicts a mirror as a kind of witty commentary on self-perception and self-delusion that had so intrigued Ramos. Through his paintings, Ramos has brought out into plain view the lascivious implications of the reclining female nude in Old Master painting and in modern “girlie” magazines. The healthy, voluptuous figure is presented in a glowing light of sexual freedom and is balanced on the tightrope “between the clean and the dirty,” which for Ramos, “has a lot to do with humor… I love to make jokes with painting.” (D. Daniels, “An Affluent American Beauty: Understanding Mel Ramos’s New Nude,” in Mel Ramos: 50 Years of Superheroes, Nudes and Other Pop Delights, exh. cat., Crocker Museum of Art, Sacramento, 2012, p. 47). The present lot provocatively entertains both a reverential and an absurdist dialogue with its Old Master template.

  • Artist Biography

    Mel Ramos

    American • 1935

    Mel Ramos is an American Pop artist best known for his paintings of female nudes alongside brand logos. His depictions of women with everyday products celebrate aspects of popular culture represented in mass media and advertising. Like his contemporaries Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Ramos was inspired by comic books and grew up drawing cartoons and characters from their pages. The artist's works, including paintings, prints and works on paper, feature in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, among others.

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204

Rokeby Venus (Velazquez Version)

1975
oil on canvas
44 x 66 in. (111.8 x 167.6 cm.)
Signed and dated "Mel Ramos 75" on the reverse.

Estimate
$350,000 - 450,000 

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Amanda Stoffel
Head of Day Sale
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Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York 16 May 2014 11am