TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
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TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)

Smoker #21

Details
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
Smoker #21
signed and dated ‘Wesselmann 75’ (on the turnover edge); titled and dated again '1975 SMOKER #21' (on the stretcher bar)
oil on shaped canvas
73 x 67 1/2in. (185.4 x 171.5cm.)
Painted in 1975
Provenance
Estate of Tom Wesselmann.
Robert Miller Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above in 2006).
Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above in 2012).
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s New York, 18 May 2017, lot 28.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
M. Scott, 'Big Dreamer: Wesselmann keeps moving forward', in The Vancouver Sun, January 2002 (illustrated, p. 29).
Exhibited
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, New Paintings by Tom Wesselmann, 1976, no. 9.
Special notice

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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
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Post lot text
This work is included in the Tom Wesselmann Digital Corpus published by the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, and will be included in their forthcoming Tom Wesselmann Digital Catalogue Raisonné.

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Tessa Lord Interim Acting Head of Department

Lot Essay

Smoker #21 (1975) is an alluring large-scale example of one of Tom Wesselmann’s most celebrated series. Painted on a shaped canvas, silky white smoke billows from a woman’s lipsticked open mouth. The image floats in space, as crisp as a paper cut-out. The mouth reclines at an angle, lips gleaming in glossy, cherry-red perfection; her exhalation undulates sensually before hitting a hard vertical edge, creating a vivid sculptural shape. In his Great American Nudes of the early 1960s, Wesselmann had combined objects like cigarettes and Coca-Cola bottles with nude women in attitudes of languorous bliss. Gradually, he began to depict the nudes alone, and then to isolate and enlarge individual elements of them with near-fetishistic focus, starting with his Mouths in 1965. Inspired by one of his models taking a cigarette break, the Smokers were commenced the following year. They are perhaps the ultimate distillation of Wesselmann’s work, and have become erotic icons of American Pop. At their largest—as in the present example, which stretches almost two metres high—they take on the commanding presence of billboards or altarpieces.

In a liberated age flooded with the exuberant colours of advertising and Abstract Expressionism alike, Wesselmann—a one-time student of Willem de Kooning—found fertile ground in the crossover between sex and consumerist pleasure. Distinct from the more detached approach taken to mass-media subject matter by artists like Andy Warhol, his pictures were brazenly luxuriant. In the shaped-canvas Smokers, his radical compositional innovation heightened the images’ intensity, creating a vocabulary as seductive as it was formally audacious. ‘If all positive and negative areas became as strong as possible,’ Wesselmann once explained, ‘there would be no negative areas; the image could become one strong positive shape. What counted was that one final shape’ (T. Wesselmann, quoted in T. Shinoda, ‘Drawings without Paper’ in Tom Wesselmann Recent Still Lifes and Landscapes, exh. cat. Galerie Tokoro, Tokyo 1991).

Wesselmann’s Great American Nudes had displayed overtly sexual women alongside ciphers for American consumer opulence, arranged together in interiors of bright, optimistic colour and form. In the Smokers, he refined these ideas to potent, emblematic simplicity. Where his earlier works tended towards a bold, graphic flatness, however, the Smokers see Wesselmann at his most painterly, indulging in their rich, complex surfaces and monumental scale. He used a projector to enlarge his images, and, painting in oils, referred to photographs in order to capture the mercurial presence of the smoke. ‘Drawing the smoke from life was nearly impossible, so he worked with photographs of a friend, Danièle, smoking’, he related in his third-person autobiography. ‘Working directly from the photographs, he then made many oil studies. He generally made up his own simplified smoke, taking cues from the photographs’ (T. Wesselmann as S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York 1980, p. 68). In Smoker #21, the tobacco haze arrives at a nuanced, liquid splendour; the mouth opens in languid ecstasy. The painting is a rich celebration of sex, style, shape and colour, capturing the hedonistic essence of Wesselmann’s art.
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