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  • Provenance

    Wesselmann Studio, New York; Imago Galleries, Palm Desert

  • Catalogue Essay

    Barbara and Baby, 1979-1981 is a stand-out work in Wesselmann’s painterly oeuvre. By lifting his nude out of a commercial and idealized version of the American dream-girl and reconfiguring her into an intimate and personalized figure, Wesselmann achieves a thoughtful meditation on the role of women in contemporary art, and in particular, his own larger body of work. In Barbara and Baby, the artist depicts his wife and son, opting not for his well articulated American blonde nude, with her suggestive poses, but rather for a highly personalized and less sexualized woman.

    Elongated, subtle and elegant, Barbara and Baby demonstrates a shift in Wesselmann’s compositional structure. Drifting away from his well-worn painterly props, such as flowers and fruits, often used to enhance and heighten the sexual identity and sensuality of the female subject, Wesselmann here presents elements around the model which are reminiscent of Christian iconography in Renaissance paintings. The artist depicts his wife nursing his infant son. Her face is set against an armrest, which becomes a golden halo, and a bed painted in lapis lazuli and deep wine red. These colors alone, together with the compositional structure of the rotunda-framed vision, are stylistic elements traditionally devoted to depictions of the Virgin Mary. Wesselmann’s Barbara and Baby can be seen as a visual metaphor for the status of women by using his wife – a symbol of the maternal figure – as a stand-in for the Virgin Mary. Wesselmann has consciously reconfigured the notion of the female nude by emphasizing the maternal and nurturing qualities of his wife’s character.

  • 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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246

Barbara and Baby

1979-1981
Oil on canvas.
44 1/2 x 72 1/4 in. (113 x 183.5 cm).
Signed and titled “Tom Wesselmann Barbara and Baby 1979-1981” and stamped with the “WESSELMANN” studio stamp on the reverse.

Estimate
£300,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £264,000

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Evening Sale
13 October 2007, 4pm
London