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

32 Year Old on the Beach

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
32 Year Old on the Beach
signed and dated 'Wesselmann 97' (upper right); signed, titled and dated 'TOM WESSELMANN 1997 32 YEAR OLD ON THE BEACH' (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
48 x 65in. (121.9 x 165.1cm.)
Painted in 1997
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Ltd., Toronto.
Private Collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Christies New York, 12 May 2004, lot 187.
Private Collection, USA.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 13 November 2014, lot 274.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
London, The Mayor Gallery, Tom Wesselman Six Canvases on a Theme, 1998, no. 4 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

With the bold lines and bright colours of a stained-glass window, 32 Year Old on the Beach (1997) is a luminous large-scale nude by Tom Wesselmann. Interlocking shapes of peach, pink, red, yellow and blue create a stylised, close-cropped image of a topless blonde, proudly baring her tanlines before sea and sky. Her red-lipped smile is the only part of her face depicted, as Wesselmann refines the female form to a bold assembly of erogenous symbols. 32 Year Old on the Beach stems from a late series in which Wesselmann returned to works from the beginnings of his career some three decades earlier. Its playful title doesn’t refer to the age of the woman depicted, but rather to that of the work it is based on: he used a preliminary sketch for a painting dating from 1965, Drawing for Blonde on the Beach. Projecting the small pencil drawing onto a canvas, he transformed its preparatory strokes into strong black outlines before filling the image with his signature flat, vivid hues. Inspired by the voluptuous forms of Henri Matisse – elegant echoes of whose Large Reclining Nude (1935, Baltimore Museum of Art) can be seen in the present painting – Wesselmann’s iconic Great American Nudes of the 1960s eschewed the coolness of many of his Pop compatriots, exploring contemporary concerns through a lens of unabashed desire. 32 Year Old on the Beach sees him take a sensuous pictorial pleasure in looking back on his own work.

Wesselmann’s Great American Nudes and Bedroom Paintings reimagined the nude for 1960s America. 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. Unlike the detached approach taken to mass-media subject matter by artists like Andy Warhol, his pictures were brazenly luxurious, combining objects like cigarettes and Coca-Cola bottles with women in attitudes of languorous erotic bliss. He engaged in constant compositional innovation, reducing his nudes to a schematic vocabulary as seductive as it was formally audacious. Each element of 32 Year Old on the Beach slots together with unerring structural logic. ‘If all positive and negative areas became as strong as possible,’ the artist once said, ‘there would be no negative areas; the image could become one strong positive shape. What counted was that one final shape’ (S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York 1980, p. 20). Indeed, 32 Year Old on the Beach’s strength of image holds true, moving beyond the Pop era into timelessness. An elegant celebration of sex, style and colour, it captures the central tenet of Wesselmann’s art: ‘I’m still in favour of beauty; good, old-fashioned, no-holds-barred beauty’ (T. Wesselmann, quoted in J. McEwen, Tom Wesselmann: Paintings 19621986, exh. cat. Mayor Gallery, London 1988, unpaged).

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