Tom Wesselmann - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist's estate

  • Catalogue Essay

    When I made the decision in 1959 that I was not going to be an abstract painter, that I was going to be a representational painter, I had absolutely no enthusiasm about any particular subject or direction or anything. I was just starting from absolute zero. I only got started by doing the opposite of everything I loved. And in choosing representational painting, I decided to do, as my subject matter, the history of art: I would do nudes.


    (Tom Wesselmann, quoted in “Telling it like it is,” M. Livingstone, Tom Wesselmann, Ostfildern, Cantz Verlag, 1994, p. 9).

    As she stretches out before us, her sheer powder blue stockings emphasizing the length of her legs, and her tan-lines drawing attention to her most intimate parts, the subject of Reclining Stockinged Nude #6, 1982, appeals to the pleasure principle within each of her spectator’s. In the present lot, Tom Wesselmann has transformed simple shapes, basic color palette, and smooth textures, into a visceral portrait of desire. Unlike the previous generation of artists—Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky—Wesselmann deliberately chose to move away from the violently gestural application of paint. However, while he freed himself from the American Abstract Expressionists, he called upon the great tradition of nude figure painting as his primary source for his series, Great American Nude. Instead of rendering the nude’s luscious curves, supple skin, and striking features, Wesselmann’s subjects far exceed the sexual abandon of the historical muses. With her legs spread apart in a state of excited anticipation, the subject of the present lot is without shame and devoid of prudery—Wesselmann offers a new portrait of the nude, one that celebrates the radical openness and honesty about sexual matters that came to be associated with the 1960s.

    What is most thrilling about Reclining Stockinged Nude #6, 1982, is how matter-of-fact and relaxed the subject is in her nudity; the reclining position is fairly indolent, as if in respite. But the abstract qualities—basic forms, simple shapes, and limited colors—are representative of an idea, rather than reality. Additionally, her face is featureless, comprised only of a pair of pink lips. She has no eyes by which her thoughts or awareness can be read. “From the very beginning I did not put faces on them, because I liked the painting to have a kind of action that would sweep through it, and certain things could slow that down… A face on the nude became like a personality and changed the whole feel of the work, made it more like a portrait nude.” (Tom Wesselmann, quoted in “Telling it like it is,” M. Livingstone, Tom Wesselmann, Ostfildern, Cantz Verlag, 1994, p. 11). Here, we see that it was Wesselmann’s intention to devoid his subjects of personalities and distinction, making them pure objects of desire. While controversial in its seductive imagery, the present lot is brashly aggressive, wonderfully humorous and full of contemporary life.

  • Artist Biography

    Tom Wesselmann

    American • 1931 - 2004

    As a former cartoonist and leading figure of the Pop Art movement, Tom Wesselmann spent many years of his life repurposing popular imagery to produce small to large-scale works that burst with color. Active at a time when artists were moving away from the realism of figurative painting and growing increasingly interested in abstraction, Wesselmann opted for an antithetical approach: He took elements of city life that were both sensual and practical and represented them in a way that mirrored Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol's own methodologies.

    Wesselmann considered pop culture objects as exclusively visual elements and incorporated them in his works as pure containers of bold color. This color palette became the foundation for his now-iconic suggestive figurative canvases, often depicting reclining nudes or women's lips balancing a cigarette.

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Reclining Stockinged Nude #6

oil on canvas, laid on shaped board
installed dimensions: 29 1/2 x 51 1/4 in. (74.9 x 130.2 cm)
Signed, titled, inscribed, and dated “Tom Wesselmann, 82, Reclining Stockinged Nude #6 (Red Head, Blue Stockings)” on the reverse.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $662,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York