Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)

Curled Up Blue Nude

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
Curled Up Blue Nude
signed and dated 'Wesselmann 01' (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
49 x 55 in. (124.5 x 139.7 cm.)
Painted in 2001.
Private collection, New York, acquired directly from the artist
David Janis Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Lot Essay

Revisiting his most iconic subject, Tom Wesselmann’s Curled Up Blue Nude (2001) displays the highly stylized nude figures of the artist’s earlier work, while at the same time revealing an evolution in his distinctively sensuous style. Evocative of his iconic Great American Nudes series of the 1960s, Curled Up Blue Nude belongs to Wesselmann’s Sunset Nude series, created in the artist’s later years. In this series, Wesselmann revisits the female form in an homage to art historical icons, such as the odalisques of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Eduard Manet and Henri Matisse. “I felt a strong obligation, in a sense, to be the next in line, or to take up the next position in the whole progression… [from] Matisse [to the] present” (T. Wesselmann, quoted in Tom Wesselmann: The Intimate Images, exh. cat., Long Beach University Art Museum, 2003, p. 4). Wesselmann was inspired to establish a unique and identifiable visual language in dialogue with these modern masters and the legacy of the reclining female. Curled Up Blue Nude is the culmination of Wesselmann’s efforts in establishing this etymology.
Dynamically positioned within a tight composition, the unabashedly naked muse of Wesselmann’s Curled Up Blue Nude pays a particularly powerful homage to Matisse’s seminal odalisque, Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra), from 1907. Wesselmann employs Matisse’s “essential lines”, the Fauvist color palette and the abstracted flowers redolent of Blue Nude. Additionally, the simplicity of the sharply defined female form and the juxtaposition of swaths of flat color in the present work are employed to depict the subject as pressed upon the canvas much like a paper cut-out, a tribute to Matisse’s Blue Nudes series of cut-outs completed in 1952. Wesselmann was able to observe the cut-out series first-hand in Gouaches Découpées, a 1960 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and continued to pay homage to this series throughout his career.
Trained as a cartoonist in his early years, Wesselmann imbued his nudes with a surreal, Pop-like sensibility that he continued to explore until the end of his life. Inspired by magazine advertising and billboard imagery, Wesselmann often incorporated glossy, overly-sexualized ad imagery in his work, including lacquered nails, glossy lips and the ubiquitous smoldering cigarette. The present work is a quintessential example of the artist’s lifelong fascination with nature’s beauty and a prime example of the artist’s evolution towards a more refined, fluid and abstracted style.
In the present work, the subject is devoid of most identifying features, save for her lips, nipple and flowing blond hair. The nude symbolizes a contemporary adaptation of traditional muses. With a bold use of color, line and space, the elements of this composition create a tension that simultaneously composes and destabilizes the body of the nude. The simplified lines of this composition work to signify the contours of the muse’s sultry curves, while also transforming her form and creating a visually exciting experience.
Further re-invigorating his take on pictorial classicism, “Wesselmann’s nudes function as visual correlatives that transfer the sexual charge from the icon of the odalisque to our experience of the painting itself” (B. London, Tom Wesselmann, exh. cat., Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, 2004, p. 6). Wesselmann has long been considered the most overtly sexual of the Pop artists; the critic Lucy Lippard included him in her list of the five most "hard-core" artists of the Pop era. While explicit, Wesselmann’s works are often incredibly intimate and overt scenes that were inspired by Claire Wesselmann, the artist’s wife of 41 years and the subject of many of his greatest works. Wesselmann reveals not only the contemporary dynamic between the artist and the muse, but also portrays the muse as in control of her bold sexuality and in acceptance of the viewer’s fascinated gaze.
A culmination of Wesselmann’s oeuvre, Curled Up Blue Nude is a seminal example of the artist’s intrepid exploration of color, imagery, form and the integration of art historical idioms within the Pop aesthetic. The provocative subject transforms the classical icon into a contemporary scene catching the artist’s captivation by the ethereal female form. Both sexy and smart, the present work is a joy to look at and a wonderful example of the Pop Art style by one of its greatest practitioners. With its sophisticated and seductive tension between figuration and abstraction, Curled Up Blue Nude exudes Wesselmann’s confidence and freedom in painting at the height of his artistic development.

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