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George Tooker (1920-2011)
George Tooker (1920-2011)

Odalisque

Details
George Tooker (1920-2011)
Odalisque
signed 'Tooker' (lower right)
tempera on panel
24 x 18 in. (61 x 45.7 cm.)
Painted in 1967.
Provenance
Frank Rehn Gallery, New York.
Private collection, New England, acquired from the above.
Skinner, Marlborough, Massachusetts, 10 May 1991, lot 43.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Literature
T.H. Garver, George Tooker, New York, 1985, pp. 114-16, 135, illustrated.
Exhibited
Brockton, Massachusetts, Fuller Museum of Art, Collecting Collectors, February 27-April 27, 1975.
Charleston, South Carolina, Gibbes Museum of Art, The Paintings of George Tooker, May 21-June 28, 1987.
Burlington, Vermont, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, George Tooker: Working Drawings, September 11-November 1, 1987.

Lot Essay

Over the course of his career, George Tooker mastered the art of portraying evocative psychological images in a dreamlike, surrealist style using the traditional medium of egg tempera. Characterized by exacting detail and a representational technique, Tooker's oeuvre can be divided into two groups: his public paintings--social images filled with pedestrians within an urban forum, such as Coney Island or a subway platform, and his private paintings that depict figures within distinctly intimate interior spaces. A compelling example of the latter category, Odalisque employs the artist’s mastery of tempera to create an immersive, patterned environment that transports the viewer into his imagined, haunting world.

Describing the present work, Thomas H. Garver writes, “It is perhaps the end of a leisurely meal, and this Odalisque fixes us with the gaze of her soft brown eyes from across the table. This woman’s figure is demurely covered, unlike the usual image of an odalisque…The only clear reference to the Orient is found in the startlingly (for Tooker) tromp l’oeil rendering of the large Kilim rug, based on one Tooker had owned for years…In compositional terms, Tooker has created a controlling geometry through decorative pattern, and it is one of the most remarkable bits of tromp-l’oeil painting in his entire oeuvre.” (George Tooker, San Francisco, California, 1992, p. 113)

The careful, consistent execution of the rug throughout the scene demonstrates Tooker's skill with the tempera medium, as well as his deliberate compositional skills. Executed in a palette of warm reds, yellows and browns, the repetitive diamond shapes are imbued with an inner glow and add unity to the composition. Within this enclosed space, Tooker’s Odalisque is draped in a gently folded white cloth, which emphasizes the golden aura of the figure staring out at the viewer with her soulful brown eyes. The white bowl on the table echoes the contours of the young woman's body and cloak. As Garver explains, “It forms a focal point here, for he uses the almost uninflected volume in the white-on-white interior of the anonymous commercial bowl as a contrast to the complex middle-eastern patterns of the kilim and as a balance to the weight of the figure.” (George Tooker, p. 113)

With every detail and shape meticulously rendered yet the exact meaning behind the composition left ambiguous, Odalisque embodies “the power of the figurative tradition to engage both a humanist compassion and a shared wonder in the enigmatic qualities—the mysteries—of human experience.” (M.M. Wolfe, “George Tooker: A Biography,” in George Tooker, exhibition catalogue, Columbus, Ohio, 2008, p. 35)

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