Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)

Smoker Study #38

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
Smoker Study #38
signed and dated twice 'Wesselmann 67 67' (on the overlap); signed, titled and dated 'SMOKER STUDY #38 WESSELMANN 1967' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
8 x 10in. (20.5 x 25.5cm.)
Painted in 1967
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Jenny Wesselmann Collection, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 14 November 2007, lot 215.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

‘Of all Wesselmann’s motifs, the film-noir charged Smoking series, stands as a compelling proxy for male and female desire... As a subject, cigarettes were glamorized and eroticized by advertisements and Hollywood exploitation. Wesselmann, too, paints a simulated image, an abstracted version that comes to stand for private desire, while simultaneously conveying the taste in voyeurism shared by the public generally.’
– Hal Foster

‘These works seem heraldic, the lips quasi-Baroque cartouches and the cigarette and crossed fingers, emblematic swords. They condense the eroticism of Wesselmann’s Great American Nudes into succinct images of formal grandeur – only the Smokers are more symbolic, more fantastic, not plainly erotic like the Nudes but secretly obscene.’
– Donald Kuspit

In Tom Wesselmann’s Smoker Study #38, smoke drifts lazily and luxuriously from full, red lips, the mouth of a femme fatale. Utterly beguiling, the cigarette dangles impossibly and languidly. The mouth is overly eroticized, yet deprived of both body and background, Wesselmann’s Magritte-like gesture renders the composition at once witty and absurd. Wesselmann began his Smokers in 1967, and the series, along with its predecessor, the Mouth paintings, developed out of his iconic Great American Nudes. These blondes embodied a conception of everlasting youth as tied to the American dream, but by the mid-1960s, Wesselmann began focussing on details of the body itself, each breast, mouth, and foot made into a monumental fetish. The Smokers evolved fortuitously: Wesselmann had been drawing studies of his friend, the actress Peggy Sarno, for a Mouth painting, when she paused to take a cigarette break; he became utterly entranced by the wisps of curling smoke. Quickly, Wesselmann discovered that drawing spirals of smoke from real life was nearly impossible; instead, he turned to projecting photographs, which allowed him the freedom to manipulate the scale and size of each composition.

Despite acknowledging the various overlaps in subject matter and aesthetics, Wesselmann always maintained some distance from the Pop artists, even though his practice was just as concerned with consumerism and mass production. Wesselmann worked as a commercial illustrator and cartoonist, and his paintings evince the same sleek and glossy look of print advertisements. This link was further reinforced by his inclusion of items such as packs of Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarettes, bottles of Coca Cola, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, among others; by the late-1960s, cigarettes were utterly synonymous with American popular culture. Writing under the pseudonym Slim Stealingworth, the artist explained, ‘That it has to do with the smoking of a cigarette has little bearing on the work or its intent’ (S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 66). Instead, Wesselmann painted the Smokers to be an ‘immediately overwhelming and beautiful confrontation with an impossibly monumental phenomenon’ (S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 66). Indeed, Smoker #38 is playfully seductive and Wesselmnan’s act of disembodiment is powerful and transforms the mouth into an icon as recognizable as any consumer product. The painting depicts both consumerism and desire, and a powerful reminder of a bygone era where cigarettes, glamour and sex were inextricably linked.

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