Having finished the sensational Great American Nude series of the 1960s, in which painting was purely an aesthetic pursuit in contrast with the cultural references of the earlier work, Wesselmann created a number of drawings and studies based on a studio model recommended to him by the fellow artist Mel Ramos. He produced two large paintings with the title Mel's Model, one of which is the present lot. While similar in some respects to the Great American Nudes, Wesselmann considered them different and new, and humorously referred to them as the "NOT Great American Nude" series.
The 1960s bore great sexual awakening and the rise of Pop art, with Abstract Expressionism still a dominant and vital force, and Wesselmann developed a unique personal style greatly influenced by his lifelong dialogue with Henri Matisse. Like Matisse, Wesselmann was an exceptional colorist and draftsman, who fused together the two great traditions of color and line to create color intensity and vibrant formal rhythms. This work portrays the way in which Wesselman borrowed from Matisse and created a brilliant new language of abstracted realism. This can be seen in Wesselmann's utmost concern with the picture plane, use of shallow space and equal emphasis on all elements of a composition.
Wesselmann embraced new directions in subject matter and techniques of painting, while still working with the traditional nude model, still life, and the quotidian landscape. Having met and liaised with Alex Katz during their time together at Cooper Union, Wesselmann moved towards the bolder abstractions of silhouetted figures based on studio models. One of Wesselmann's achievements, manifested in Mel's Model, was his ability to create a strikingly contemporary classic nude, combining a profound knowledge of artistic tradition and his deep personal feelings and insights. As the artist's writer alter-ego Slim Stealingworth reflected, "Wesselmann regards himself, and I agree, as not being in any specific category Wesselmann's motivation, what drives his art is no different than any other fine artist in history -- he wants to give form to his own personal discoveries of what is beautiful and exciting to him" (T. Wesselmann as Slim Stealingworth quoted in Tom Wesselmann, Milan, 2003, p. 21).