Tom Wesselmann - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Tom Wesselmann, 'Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises', Lot 27

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Collection of the artist
    Haunch of Venison, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Tübingen, Institut Für Kulturaustausch; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Berlin, Altes Museum; Munich, Museum Villa Stuck; Kunsthal Rotterdam; Speyer, Historisches Museum der Pfalz; Paris, Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain; Madrid, Fundación Juan March; Barcelona, Palais de la Virreina; Lisbon, Culturgest; Nice, Musée d'Art Moderne, Tom Wesselmann: 1959-1993, 9 April 1994 - 27 January 1997, no. 95, p. 178 (illustrated, p. 170)
    New York, Haunch of Venison; NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Washington D.C., The Kreeger Museum, Tom Wesselmann Draws, 7 November 2009 - 30 July 2011, p. 61 (illustrated, p. 60)
    Houston, McClain Gallery, RECLINE, Portraiture & Henri Matisse Prints, 26 January - 19 April 2019

  • Catalogue Essay

    Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises, 1993, evinces Tom Wesselmann’s daring departure from prescribed artistic categories in the second half of the twentieth century. With a prolific artistic career spanning five decades, the artist turned away from the movement of Abstract Expressionism that was then dominating the American art scene, and instead directed his artistic practice towards a path that reflected his own bold experimentality, most closely twined with American Pop art. A large-scale charcoal and pastel work on paper, Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises relates to Wesselmann’s steel drawing series begun in 1983, and derives from a similarly titled cut-out steel piece from 1987. In this series, the artist intended to create works which appeared as if they were painted directly on the wall, with a tactile sensibility which could be felt by the viewer.

    A contemporary of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenberg, Wesselmann paved his own distinct path within American Pop by focusing his artistic practice on the nude figure. ‘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 only got started by doing the opposite of everything I loved’, the artist said. ‘And 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, quoted in Marco Livingstone, ‘Tom Wesselmann: Telling It Like It Is’, A Retrospective Survey 1969-1992, exh. cat., Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1993, p. 21). Taking on these more traditional subject matters and imparting them with a contemporary twist, Wesselmann charged his work with a novel sensuality, generally absent from art of the time – which seemed to focus on satirical critiques of capitalism through the artistic treatment of everyday items, such as Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Brillo Boxes. Wesselmann’s works were not so much sardonic formulations of consumerism as they were proclamations of praise for the ever-changing capacities of colour, line and shape. Utilising the visual discourse of advertising, underpinned by vibrant tonalities, bold line and a relative simplicity of detail, the artist brought formal concerns to the fore of his painterly enterprise.

    Upon first encounter, Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises provides the viewer with an ambivalent experience that situates the composition outside of the two-dimensional plane proposed by drawing and painting. Fluctuating from vibrant tonality to blankness, curvaceous line and textural shape to empty space, Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises constitutes its negative as much as itself. The painting thus enacts a similar perceptive encounter as that spurred by Willem de Kooning’s Women series, in which the viewer must actively discern each thrashing line from heavy limb or angular breast, twining themselves within the tactile plane. Similarly, the details within Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises are not instantaneously legible. The lines of pastel that constitute the figure’s body and limbs mingle flirtatiously with those that define the iris petals and the interior surroundings, establishing a complex spatiality that the viewer is left to devotedly decipher.

    Unlike other works from the Great American Nude series in which the artist focused his attention on the female body, often cropping or eliminating entirely the woman’s face or eyes, here Wesselmann reclaims for his subject an almost authoritative agency. The tight cropping of the scene provides an intimacy for the work, as if we were laying right beside the figure. Yet never does it feel as if we are encroaching on a private moment – a sentiment often the prescribed by classical odalisque nude portraits, allowing, if not encouraging, the penetrative male gaze. Here, the direct stare of the figure in Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises initiates a perceptive encounter whereby the authoritative gaze is reclaimed. In this way, we may feel we are no longer the ones looking, but rather those being looked at. With swollen red lips that curl slightly upwards at the corners, and arms outstretched above her head, the protagonist is furthermore redolent of Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude (Souvenir of Briska), 1907, whose reclining figure similarly seems sculpted in palpable space.

    A culmination of various historical styles and traditions, colliding the Still Life genre with the perpetual theme of the reclining nude, Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises exemplifies a courageous leap taken by Wesselmann in which artistic boundaries and categories are re-envisioned. Yet whilst evidencing the influence of artistic traditions of the past, the work remains distinctly modern, paying homage to Wesselmann’s Pop contemporaries such as Roy Lichtenstein. A sublime example of Wesselmann’s body of intimate, yet ravishing works on paper, Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises signals the radical and refreshing autonomy that the artist introduced with his creative output.

  • 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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Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises

signed and dated ‘Wesselmann 93’ lower right
charcoal and pastel on paper
164.8 x 239.7 cm (64 7/8 x 94 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1993.

£320,000 - 420,000 

Sold for £375,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
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Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
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[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020