Lot 30
  • 30

Tom Wesselmann

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Tom Wesselmann
  • Great American Nude #44
  • acrylic and paper collage on board with radiator, telephone, coat and door
  • 81 1/8 x 106 1/4 x 12 1/2 in. 206 x 269.9 x 31.8 cm.
  • Executed in 1963


Green Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Scull, New York (acquired from the above in 1963)
Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, A Selection of Fifty Works from the Collection of Robert C. Scull, October 18, 1973, Lot 47
Reinhard Onnasch, Berlin (acquired from the above)
Christie’s, New York, May 14, 2002, Lot 8
Maxwell Davidson Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003


Washington, D.C., Gallery of Modern Art, Popular Image Exhibition, April – June 1963, cat. no. 56, n.p., illustrated and illustrated (detail, the artist with the present work)
New York, Pace Gallery, International Girlie Exhibition, January 1964
Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Amerikansk Pop-Konst: Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, George Segal, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, February – July 1964, cat. no. 105, p. 97, illustrated
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amerikansk Pop-Kunst, 1964, p. 5, illustrated
New York, New School Art Center, The Urban Environment-Contemporary Visions, January – February 1966
London, Hayward Gallery, Pop Art Redefined, July – August 1969, cat. no. 161, illustrated
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Aspekte der 60er Jahre, February – April 1978, p. 109, illustrated
Duisberg, Lehmbruck Museum, Das Bild der Frau in der Plastik des 20 Jahrhunderts, May – June 1986, p. 155, illustrated
Hamburger, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Amerikanische Pop Art in der Hamburger Kunsthalle, February 1997
Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves, Onnasch: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001 – June 2002, p.109, illustrated in color
New York, Maxwell Davidson Gallery, Tom Wesselmann: The Great American 60’s, April – June 2003, illustrated in color


Alan R. Solomon, “The New Art,” Art International, 7, 1963, p. 41, illustrated
John Russell and Suzi Gablik, Pop Art Redefined, London and New York, 1969, pl. XV, illustrated in color
Edward Lucie-Smith, Movements in Art since 1945, London and New York, 1969, p. 129, illustrated in color
Slim Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 33, illustrated
Bernhard Kerber, Bestände Onnasch, Berlin, 1992, p. 65, illustrated in color
Steven Henry Madoff, ed., Pop Art: A Critical History, Berkeley and London, 1997, p. 352
Exh. Cat., New York, Acquavella Galleries, Robert & Ethel Scull, Portrait of a Collection, 2010, pp. 274-275, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A monumental microcosm, an intimate space made public, and an intriguing life-sized corner of Tom Wesselmann’s world, Great American Nude No. 44 brilliantly combines classical odalisque imagery and the contemporary artifice of popular culture, pioneering the iconic paradigm of assemblage art and seminal Pop Art. The Great American Nude series began as a way for Wesselmann to define himself amongst the many artists and movements in New York at that time. Reacting against the elite painterliness and hermeticism of Abstract Expressionism, he decided to limit himself largely to the patriotic colors of red, white and blue as well as related hues such as the gold fringe on a flag or the khaki of an army uniform. He adopted the Duchampian paradigm by incorporating found objects such as printed images of fruit, liquor bottles and real objects applied to his surface, perfectly embodied here by the telephone, door, coat and radiator that hold pride of place in the composition of the current work. Once holding an esteemed place alongside Willem de Kooning’s Police Gazette (1955), Jasper Johns’ Target (1961), and Andy Warhol’s Small Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) (1962) in the legendary collection of Robert C. Scull, the current work illustrates Wesselmann’s centrality in the American artistic landscape. After the sale of fifty works from the Scull Collection by Sotheby’s in 1973, the present work entered the collection of Reinhard Onnasch, where it remained for nearly three decades.
Traceable to Cubist and Dadaist collages, and to such famed works as Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (1913), Wesselmann’s assemblage elements retain autonomy from their structural functionality yet serve to reinforce the experience of a philosophical whole. The two-dimensional painting is juxtaposed with three-dimensional objects commonly found in middle-class American households, thus the stark reality of readymade found objects are conjoined with painting itself; subsequently the work of art begins to dissolve the boundaries between the realm of the viewer and the supposedly hallowed and distant status of the art-object. However, the intrusion is an illusion: although the radiator, the coat and the phone are three-dimensional, they tend to recede into the pictorial plane due to the work’s extraordinary balance of composition and depth of color. In addition, Wesselmann designed the telephone to ring six times every six minutes. Thus the viewer was incited to answer the phone as a happening-like dissolution of art-reality boundaries, and the ringing of the phone was later disabled. Similarly, the woman in the Renoir portrait draws the viewer’s attention to herself, only to deflect that attention to the female nude through her gaze.  Everything looks desirable, but nothing is accessible. The third-dimension therefore is an addition to the two-dimensional painting, as well as a subtraction from the illusion of reality. Great American Nude No.44 was in fact conceived as a painting, and it was Wesselmann's objective that it would stay as such. Under the pen-name Slim Stealingworth, in a self-titled monograph, the artist wrote: “In all of my dimensional work I use the third dimension to intensify the two-dimensional experience. It becomes part of a vivid two-dimensional image. The third dimension, while actually existing, is only an illusion in terms of the painting, which remains my intent in a painting and not a sculptural context.” (Slim Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 34)
In the present work, Wesselmann's functional shift from an emphasis on compositional integrity towards a personalized reading of the artwork is accentuated by imagery embedded within a historical framework. Wesselmann candidly acknowledged the role of historical models in his work. "When I made the decision in 1959 that I was not going to be an abstract painter; that I was going to be a representational painter...I only got started by doing the opposite of everything I loved. And in choosing representational painting, I decided to do, as my subject matter, the history of art: I would do nudes, still-lifes, landscapes, interiors, portraits, etc..." (Marco Livingstone, "Tom Wesselmann: Telling It Like It Is,” in Exh. Cat., Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, Tom Wesselmann; A Retrospective Survey 1969-1992, 1993, p. 21) Wesselmann's wide range of historical referents include the conspicuous reproduction of a Renoir portrait and the re-interpretation of the female nude tradition.
Painting the intimate in the language of the public, Wesselmann employed dazzling colors irresistibly drawing our gaze into a world of easy sensuality and pleasurable gratification. For Wesselmann, eroticism became an instrument to accomplish a new type of assertiveness without resorting to the gestural physicality exploited by the previous generation of painters. “Since I couldn't use the Abstract Expressionist brushstroke any more—I had dropped that—I had to find other ways of making the painting, the image, aggressive.” (Ibid., p. 23) Within the cultural context of 1960s America, the erotically charged poses in the Great American Nude series convey much more than Wesselmann's claim that they were merely observations of his new wife Claire. Desire is brought to the fore as the female figure exalts in stretching herself, looking ever more flirtatious and exuberantly available under the gaze of Renoir’s female head. With bold strokes, concise contours, and reductive features in a largely abstracted female form, the presence of the nude appears as real and palpable as the popped-out objects. “Wesselmann lends his talents to a gradual abstraction, the figure of the nude is one large shape with few details. The mass dominates the sense of realness…Historically, the nude as a subject has a somewhat intimate and personal relationship to the viewer. Wesselmann’s nudes transcended these characteristics. They abandoned human relationships and as a presence became more blunt and aggressive.” (Slim Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, 1980, New York, pp. 23-24).
Sam Hunter notes that the title for The Great American Nude series was an outgrowth of Wesselmann's “gag-humor days when standard topics of parody were ‘The Great American Novel’ and ‘The Great American Dream.’ But the theme also captured something of the collective spirit of satire at a time of a newly dissenting avant-garde, and it connects the banal imagery of Pop Art to the empty, inflated Minimalist forms in that turbulent sixties era.” (Sam Hunter, Op. cit., p. 18) A summation of assemblage art, a prototypical Pop Art, and a true American original, Great American Nude No. 44 stands among Wesselmann's most complex, assured and successfully resolved works.