Lot 12
  • 12

Claes Oldenburg

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • Claes Oldenburg
  • Study for a soft sculpture in the form of a giant ketchup bottle
  • signed with the artist’s initials and dated 67
  • pencil and watercolour on paper
  • 75.5 by 55cm.; 29 7/8 by 21 5/8 in.


Sidney Janis Gallery, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1967


Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Claes Oldenburg: Tekeningen, aquarellen en grafiek, 1977, p. 60, no. 100

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Claes Oldenburg, 1977, p. 59

Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Claes Oldenburg, 1977, pp. 62 and 78, illustrated 

Sunderland, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, A Bottle of Notes and Some Voyages, 1988

Malmo, Malmö Konsthall, C. Oldenburg, 1989


Paul Bianchini, Claes Oldenburg: Drawings and Prints, London 1969, p. 267, no. 335


Colour: The colour in the printed catalogue is fairly accurate, although there are more purple undertones in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are a few minor and unobtrusive handling creases in isolated places.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Claes Oldenburg is a Pop art pioneer. He was one of the first artists to break free from Abstract Expressionism and elevate the mundane objects of everyday life into a high art setting. The present work is typical of his impulsive style: a gestural and instinctive work on paper, heralding an important year within his praxis, and prefiguring one of his celebrated soft sculptures now in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena.

In its juxtaposition of colour and scale, it is an example of the very best of Oldenburg's works on paper. Focusing on an object entirely quotidian in nature, this work depicts a crimson ketchup bottle bent over and crumpled, as though it has been firmly squeezed to produce a spreading pool of red. By this stage in his career, some six years after he had first opened 'The Store', Oldenburg was well established in his style, and confident in his choice of subject. Furthermore, the everyday objects he chose to depict had taken on an almost devotional significance: “We do invest religious emotion in our objects, look at how beautifully objects are depicted in ads on Sunday newspapers. It’s all very emotional. Objects are body images, after all, created by humans, filled with human emotion, objects of worship” (Claes Oldenburg quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art (and travelling), Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, 1995, p. 260). The ketchup bottle is exemplary amongst these objects, overtly American in nature, and ubiquitous on the dining tables of the 1960s. Indeed, in the same year as the present work, Oldenburg also immortalised the motif in an eight foot soft sculpture.

Oldenburg used these coloured drawings to immediately respond to the stimuli he encountered every day. Drawing for Oldenburg was not just a vehicle employed to transmit and translate his artistic fixations to larger projects, but an artistic fixation in and of itself. In the words of critic Gene Baro: “Of course he draws also quite deliberatively [sic], in preparation for his work in sculpture; but his preoccupation with drawing… goes well beyond this practical necessity” (Gene Baro, Claes Oldenburg: Drawings and Prints, London 1969, p. 11). To this end, the present work is exceptional in its gestural and instinctive delineation. Oldenburg bleeds red and grey watercolours through his studied hatchings to imbue his work with a sense of innate confidence.

1967 was a significant year for Oldenburg’s works on paper and was the first in which they were honoured with their own exhibition, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The present work is in keeping with Oldenburg’s best work in the medium, belying his self-assuredness in draughtsmanship and his quasi-religious devotion to everyday objects, while also providing a fascinating insight into his creative process.