Tom Wesselmann - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Tom Wesselmann, 'Bedroom Painting for Roz', Lot 41

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist circa 1975)
    Sotheby's, New York, May 11, 2005, lot 191
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Combining bright, saturated colors with a cropped-in perspective of a perfectly arched foot, Bedroom Painting for Roz is a quintessential example of Tom Wesselmann’s Bedroom Painting series. Radically cropping his sitter’s foot, poised on a faux leopard print sheet alongside daffodils, an orange, and a tissue box, Wesselmann here presents the viewer with an intimate vignette that hovers between figuration and abstraction. Reminiscent of a detail one might find in a large-scale figure painting, this work perfectly encapsulates the strategy of zooming-in that is characteristic for the Bedroom Paintings that Wesselmann created between 1967 and 1984, of which other examples reside in such collections as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In spite of the title, little is known about the work’s conception as Wesselmann knew no fewer than four women named Roz.

    Painted in 1971, this work perfectly encapsulates how Wesselmann continued to develop his practice to new formal and conceptual heights after gaining critical acclaim for his Great American Nude series in the early 1960s. Widely celebrated as the paragon of Pop Art, Wesselmann’s Great American Nude series revolutionized the field of art making by recasting the art historical trope of the female nude through the lens of American contemporary culture. With an ironic nod to such masters as Titian and Henri Matisse, Wesselmann painted highly charged scenes of female nudes seductively lounging or posing. Embracing a reductive aesthetic synonymous with the visual language of advertising, Wesselmann typically rendered the interiors with a palette of patriotic red, white, and blue and abstracted the figures into emblems of desire – reducing any expressive facial features and instead focusing on signifiers of sexuality. In contrast to the odalisques of the traditional art canon, Wesselmann’s figures have tan lines – firmly situating them within the contemporary context in a way that powerfully echoes Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863, or Jean August Dominique Ingres's The Grand Odalisque, 1814.

    It is testament to Wesselmann’s tireless inventiveness that he began to shift his focus from his Great American Nudes starting in 1967, exploring more intimate, close-ups of the female nude in his series of Bedroom Paintings. As Wesselmann stated in an interview, “I’d gotten a little tired of doing full length nudes because everything else in the painting had to be so small…I wanted to deal with these big shapes; so I came in closer and closer” (Tom Wesselmann, quoted in Irving Sandler, “Oral History Interview with Tom Wesselmann”, in Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 3 - February 8, 1954, online). While similarly focusing on the female nude as in his preceding series, Wesselmann here hones in on the background details of his Great American Nude. In works such as the present one, Wesselmann isolates segments of the body, such as a foot, hand, or breast, and juxtaposes them against bedroom objects ranging from pillows, lamps, curtains, and light switches – fusing the modes of figure and still life painting into one subversive painterly vignette.

    By cropping and isolating a particular body part, Wesselmann effectively adopts the seductive strategies of advertising agencies to awaken desire. In Bedroom Painting for Roz, Wesselmann strategically crops out the rest of the female body and instead focuses on the perfectly arched foot lying on the leopard bedsheet. “Historically, the nude as a subject has a somewhat intimate and personal relationship to the viewer, even if only in terms of scale,” Wesselmann once noted. “Too big a scale and eroticism decreases…” (Slim Stealingworth (a.k.a Tom Wesselmann), Tom Wesselman, New York, 1980, p. 33). While then devoid of the overt sexuality characteristic of his Great American Nudes, the compressed composition and scale of Wesselmann’s Bedroom Paintings by extension possess a heightened intimacy. Yet while Bedroom Painting for Roz is distinct for its reference to a specific person in its title – the majority of paintings in the series are titled with numbers – it nonetheless retains a sense of anonymity and detachment so characteristic of Wesselmann’s pictorial idiom.

    At the same time, Wesselmann’s compositional and formal choices have an equalizing effect – the foot is placed seductively next to such everyday objects as the orange, tissue box, and daffodil. Fusing signifiers of intimacy and desire with consumer products, Wesselmann puts forth a conceptually multi-layered painting that provocatively integrates the language of consumer-based advertising. At the same time, Bedroom Painting for Roz powerfully evidences Wesselmann’s intuitive sense of composition and use of color, line and shape: while representational in function, the flattened objects fuse into an abstracted landscape of interlocking positive and negative shapes reminiscent of Matisse’s late work. At once conceptually subversive and formally complex, this work captures the core tenets of the series Wesselmann would come to view as central to his oeuvre. As Wesselmann indeed declared of his Bedroom Paintings, “That was really when my work began for me, when I made that realization of what I’m excited by” (Tom Wesselmann, quoted in Irving Sandler, “Oral History Interview with Tom Wesselmann”, in Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 3 - February 8, 1954, online).

  • 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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Bedroom Painting for Roz

signed and dated "Wesselmann 71" upper left; further signed, titled and dated "BEDROOM PAINTING FOR ROZ Wesselmann 71" on the stretcher
oil on canvas
24 x 42 1/8 in. (61 x 107 cm.)
Painted in 1971.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $920,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019