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  • Provenance

    The Tom Wesselmann Estate, New York
    Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, United States, 2007
    Private Collection, Japan

  • Exhibited

    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Recent Work by Tom Wesselmann, May 1 - May 29, 1982
    Tokyo, Odakyu Grand Gallery, Pop Art USA - UK: American and British artists of the 60s in the 80s, July 24 – August 18, 1987, then traveled to Osaka, Daimaru Museum (September 9 - 28, 1987), Funabashi, Funabashi Seibu Museum of Art (October 30 - November 17, 1987), Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art (November 26 – December 13, 1987)

  • Literature

    Recent Work by Tom Wesselmann,exh. cat., Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1982, no. 4
    Pop Art USA - UK: American and British artists of the 60s in the 80s, exh. cat., Odakyu Grand Gallery, Tokyo, 1987, p. 79 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "… in choosing representational painting, I decided to do, as my subject matter, the history of art: I would do nudes, still lives, landscapes, interiors, portraits, etc. It didn't take long before I began to follow my most active interests: nudes and still lives." Tom Wesselmann, 1996

    The present lot is an outstanding example of one of Tom Wesselmann’s most beloved genres: the still life. Overshadowed by the heroic torsos of his Great American Nude series, Wesselmann’s still lives complete his incredibly coherent body of work and offered the artist an important vehicle through which to express motifs of modern American life. Concentrating on the apposition of seemingly random objects, Wesselmann aimed to establish new relationships between the objects in an effort to create electrifying images that were as powerful as those created by the Expressionists. Wesselmann believed that a strong relationship could only be created between items that came from different realities in order for them to trade on each other and create momentum within the work. Within the present lot, an orange, a blue cosmetic jar and a burning cigarette are tightly arranged in large, billboard-like scale that transforms them into a different existence. Because of their scale, these images emerge as exceedingly literal, no longer suggesting real life, but rather emphasizing their formal existence in order to bring genre painting into the American tradition. Within the overall composition, each element is given equal weight and their presence is charged through both scale and the utilization of high intensity hues charges.

    Despite the fact that his sleek, hard edge works appropriate commercial language and symbols, Wesselmann is not a Pop artist. Recognizing that Abstract Expressionism could not be taken any further, Wesselmann resolved to return figuration to painting in the grand tradition of nudes, landscapes and still life’s. Drawing inspiration from the great Modernist Master’s Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian, Wesselmann’s flat, seamless compositions offered a redefinition of traditional genres and sought to advance the tradition of formalist painting. While his graphic style and use of commercial images act in the attitude of Pop, Wesselmann’s aesthetic usage of everyday objects was done not in criticism of American consumerism and culture, but as a way to render Classical genres modern so as to explore the gap between art and contemporary life. To this end, Wesselmann makes no differentiation between traditional forms of high and low art which allows each object, commercial or otherwise, to function literally and thereby representing exactly what it is rather than as an allusion to a grander narrative. Wesselmann’s classical representation of modern objects signified a radical break in American painting that would prove to inspire future generations of artists to continue an engagement with formalism.

    Toward the end of the 1960s Wesselmann moved away from the inclusion of commercial objects in his works in favor of streamlined reoccurring figurative images that he juxtaposed in various groupings within the frame of traditional genres. While his most iconic images involve a burning cigarette, Wesselmann also utilized lipstick, flowers, oranges as well as various household items such as telephones, jars and radios in large scale to create assemblages that captured the themes of contemporary American life. In relation to the rationalization behind his chosen icons, the artist explained, “I can't do a big hat; I can't do a big anything, because it's just a big something -- a big piece of "Pop" crap. So there are only a very few things that I can work with that can be abstract enough so the abstract aspect of it can dominate its form… Because everything else for me is just doing a big something or other, unless I do groupings.” (T. Wesselmann, Oral history interview with Tom Wesselmann, Archives of American Art,1984) Wesselmann was totally committed to form, history and tradition which allowed his consideration of formal problems and arrangement to be systematic and rigorous and completely aimed at visual impact.

    A master of harmonization, Wesselmann’s vibrantly balanced arrangements expertly blends traditional influences with a commercial aesthetic that relay an underlying hint of sexuality and wit. Through a combination of sleekly curved canvases and slick flat surfaces that emphasize a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of his works, it is hard to ignore the brazen promiscuity of his images. For example in the present lot, the lush curves of the orange, its darkened navel pointed directly to the viewer is highly suggestive of a woman’s breast, while the burning cigarette suggest a sensual post coital routine shared between lovers. Traditionally, still life’s are laden with allusions, and Wesselmann’s are no different, however his are not derived from a deeper meaning associated with the object, but through the interaction of the objects and their form, as the artist explains: “At first glance, my pictures seem well behaved, as if – that is a still life, O.K. But these things have such crazy give-and-take that I feel they get really very wild”.

  • 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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Ο ◆56

Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette (flat)

oil on canvas
57 x 108 in. (144.8 x 274.3 cm)
Signed, titled, inscribed and dated "Tom Wesselmann 1981 Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette (flat) The Estate of Tom Wesselmann Claire Wesselmann, Executor" along the overlap.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,385,000

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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm