Tom Wesselmann - Contemporary Art and Design Evening Sale New York Tuesday, March 3, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Tom Wesselmann Studio
    Imago Gallery, Palm Desert
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    “There’s no question that the nudes of women are more exciting as subjects than anything else.”
    Tom Wesselmann, 1984

    The distinctive Pop Art idiom of Tom Wesselmann emerged out of his encounters with Abstract Expressionism. As the artist recalled to the art historian Irving Sandler, “I didn't know what else to paint except nudes. I didn't know how else to paint because I had no historical relationship to art. I painted like what I was immediately encountering -- which was abstract painting on Tenth Street.” (Interview with Tom Wesselmann conducted 1984 by Irving Sandler for the Archives of American Art) The primordial portrayal of the feminine in the gestural paintings of de Kooning in a sense provided Wesselmann with his point of departure for the development of his own signature style and his obsession with the female nude. He noted that there came a point when he “threw out de Kooning. I tried to throw out every influence I was conscious of…. I wanted to find a way that in a sense was the opposite of it. De Kooning worked big; I'd work small…..They worked abstract; I'd work figurative . . . . At the same time there are other things here, like I deliberately wanted to work figurative because it was the one mode that I so scorned . . . . It was the only way to go . . . .I had no point of view, and I was really approaching figurative art as a naive . . . . .”(Interview with Tom Wesselmann conducted 1984 by Irving Sandler for the Archives of American Art)

    Wesselmann’s acclaim hinges on his Great American Nude paintings in the early 1960’s.He was crowned by art critic Lucy Lippard as one of the five “hard-core” Pop Artists based in New York, along with Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Warhol and Rosenquist. Wesselmann placed his bold and colorful nudes within interiors filled with commercial products that embodied the essence of 1960’s American popular culture. They were wittily conversant with the traditions of past art, and yet exuded a vibrant sense of contemporary artificiality. The artist explained that in “choosing representational painting I decided to do, as my subject matter, the history of art: I would do nudes, still-lifes, landscapes, interiors, portraits, etc.” (Tom Wesselmann in M. Livingstone, “Tom Wesselmann: Telling It Like It is,” Tom Wesselmann, a Retrospective Survey, 1969-1992, Isetan Museum of Tokyo, 1993, p. 21)

    The present lot, Blue Nude Drawing (12/17/99), 1999 is a stunning work from Wesselmann’s late series of paintings referred to as “canvas drawings.” The series represents a more freehand approach for Wesselmann, who painted this work directly upon the canvas as if it were an enormous sketch pad rather than a pre-ordained canvas. The work is stylistically defined by the thick, bold brushstrokes which outline basic elements of the composition. The seated nude, with her hands folded upon her knee, seems to recline on a brightly colored orange towel, placed just so on a warm sandy beach. She is faceless with the exception of perfectly rendered and highly stylized dark red lips. Wesselmann comments on the absence of facial definition in these works, "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 would slow that down: too much detail could slow it 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 and I didn't like that" (Tom Wesselmann in T. Buchsteiner, O. Letze, Tom Wesselmann, Ostfildern, 1996, p. 11) By intentionally leaving out the figure’s eyes, Wesselmann has in fact eliminated one of the most seductive, on other occasions confrontational, elements associated with the history of the female nude: the gaze. With no alluring return of the figure’s gaze back to the viewer, a strange sense of anonymity and remoteness prevails. The present lot thus balances abstraction and disembodiment with pop sensuality. The depicted figure’s folded form and her bold outline, executed in a heavy dark blue, are also reminiscent of Matisse’s blue nude cutouts of the early 1950’s. As the art historian Robert Rosenblum observed, “Much as Goya or Manet translated Renaissance Venuses into modern nudes who looked shockingly contemporary to the 19th century spectators, Wesselmann’s nudes bear the memories of this long tradition, while undermining its venerability by relocating these ancient sex goddesses in grassroots America.” (R. Rosenblum, “About Tom Wesselmann,” Tom Wesselmann, Nudes and Abstracts, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, 2003)

  • 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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Blue Nude Drawing (12/17/99)

oil on canvas
46 x 47 1/4 in. (116.8 x 120 cm)
Signed and dated "Wesselmann 99" lower left. Titled and dated "1999 Blue Nude Drawing (12/17/99)”along the overlap. This work is accompanied by a letter of confirmation signed by Claire Wesselmann.

$350,000 - 550,000 

Sold for $389,000

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New York
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Meaghan Roddy
Head of Sale, Design
New York
+ 1 212 940 1266

Contemporary Art and Design Evening Sale

New York Auction 3 March 2015 6pm