Perhaps the most important group of paintings since the iconic Great American Nudes of the 1960s, Tom Wesselmann's Sunset Nudes not only display the ubiquitous, sexed-up blondes of his earlier work but also reveal a refinement of style and a paring-down of elements to their most abstract end. Created at the end of his life, these Sunset Nudes make use of broad swaths of bright color and bands of reductivist white to compose, yet simultaneously destabilize, the bodies of each nude. Monumental in size and sharing similar compositional elements, the Sunset Nudes are the first complete group of nudes on canvas to emerge from the artist's work in the last 20 years.
Tom 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. 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 displays the dialogue that Wesselmann had established with some of art's modern masters, such as Henri Matisse and Edouard Manet, at the end of his life. Working from the nude for the majority of his life, it seems only fitting that Wesselmann would begin to consider the greatest nudes of art's trajectory, such as the odalisques of Matisse or, as in the present work, Manet's Olympia. Like Olympia, Wesselmann's Sunset Nude (Big Red Pillow) is unabashedly naked, propped up and on display. But Wesselmann's nude is nearly devoid of the erotic quality that Manet displays; rendered in bright, vivid colors and devoid of all facial features save for lips, Wesselmann's nude straddles the line between art and commercial imagery, to exist in a transient state that defies conventions.