Lot 37
  • 37

TOM WESSELMANN | Study for Drop Out Nude

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Tom Wesselmann
  • Study for Drop Out Nude
  • signed by the Estate of Tom Wesselmann and Claire Wesselmann, titled, dated 1981, and variously inscribed on the overlap
  • oil on canvas
  • 109.3 by 172 cm. 43 by 68 in.


The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, New York
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2006) 
Almine Rech Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is warmer and slightly more muted in the original, particularly in the yellow and green passages in the background. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

Bold, punchy and alluring, Study for Drop Out Nude exemplifies Tom Wesselmann’s iconic Pop art aesthetic. Executed in 1981, the painting belongs to the American artist’s celebrated series of Drop-outs. Initiated some twenty years earlier in 1965 with an early cycle of Seascapes, Wesselmann’s Drop-outs innovatively employ negative space to invoke the female form. Exemplifying the artist’s eroticised and simplified pictorial syntax, the nude’s features have been entirely reduced to a sweep of blonde hair, pouted lips, and rounded nipples. Through this intriguing interplay between positive and negative space, abstraction and figuration, and a sophisticated mise en abyme, Wesselmann succeeds in producing a powerful composition that far surpasses the classic Pop imagery of his contemporary moment. As art historian Constance W. Glenn has remarked, Wesselmann was “a surprisingly sophisticated draughtsman with a great gift for a long, expansive Matisse-inspired line” (Constance W. Glenn, ‘Wesselmann and Drawing’ in: Exh. Cat., Rome, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, Tom Wesselmann, 2005, p. 237). Indeed, with their sinuous curves and lithe configuration, the voluptuously rendered forms in Study for Drop Out Nude are deeply reminiscent of Matisse’s prolific body of painted odalisques. That examples of Wesselmann’s Drop-outs reside in notable museum collections – from Tate, London, to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York – is testament to their great importance within his oeuvre. At once a product and celebration of its time, Wesselmann’s iconography was largely driven by the language of consumerism. Conjuring the visual vocabulary and amplified scale of billboard advertisements, the artist’s pictorial style engaged with an image saturated era of rising commercialism in America. Compelled by the reductive forms and instantaneous decipherability of advertising, in an age where sexuality was increasingly being used to sell products, Wesselmann developed a unique pictorial syntax for his nudes comprising soft curving lines and simplified anatomical shapes. In this way, works such as the present seamlessly meld the traditional motif of the classical odalisque, as exemplified by artists such as Titian, Ingres and Velázquez, with the thoroughly contemporary American visual culture of pin-up girls and erotica. As curator John Wilmerding attests, “One of [Wesselmann’s] special achievements was to make the classic nude both contemporary and American” (John Wilmerding, Exh. Cat., New York, Maxwell Davidson Gallery, Tom Wesselmann: Drop-out, n.p.).

Working in stark contrast to the New York School of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, Wesselmann struck out against the emotive and gestural abstraction that had come to define ‘authenticity’ for that generation. In a decisive break with Abstract Expressionism, Wesselmann looked not to inner-emotion and sentiment as a source of inspiration, but rather to the visual, fast-paced and dazzling world around him. One of the leading proponents of the Pop art movement alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Wesselmann sought to convey the excitement and evolutions of the modern day through a triumphant return to figurative art.