Iconic pop American painting, Long Delayed Nude draws on a recurring theme in Tom Wesselmann's work -the nude- while disseminating distinctive elements of his two other major series, Still Lifes and Bedroom paintings.
Started in 1967 and finished only eight years later, in 1975, this monumental painting of great formal complexity cleverly blends the various inspirations of Wesselmann's painting during this essential period of construction of his pictorial vocabulary. The central female figure obviously relates to the Great American Nudes, a series started in 1961, the year Wesselmann enjoyed his first solo show at the Tanager gallery in New York thanks to Alex Katz. But it goes beyond a nod to this mythical work or the mere representation of a naked and languid body to depict an almost filmic scene in a dynamic composition that expresses the extent of Wesselmann's compositional talent.
In front of Long Delayed Nude, our eyes cannot but feel immediately attracted by the woman lying in an ecstatic posture, her chest thrown out and her slightly open mouth highlighted by a fuchsia lipstick. But viewers should look further and pay attention to every background detail to understand the narrative of the scene. Through his subtle play between abstraction and figuration and the use of an obvious mise en abîme induced by the picture frame on the right end of the composition, Wesselmann makes a very radical proposal that goes way beyond classic pop imagery.
Through this intimate and erotic scene, which realism evokes the advertising archetypes and codes that compel us to voyeurism, Wesselmann also proved his detractors he was not only a mere advertiser. Although one cannot but admire the figurative rendering and precision of his lines, there is an underlying rebellious desire here, as Wesselmann rejected the abstract expressionism of his peers to favor a both "pop" and "classical" representation of nude, still life and landscape. With Long Delayed Nude, he thus merged two traditions into one: that of Matisse, a brilliant colorist and drawer like him, and that of his contemporaries, among which were Lichtenstein and Rosenquist.
While following in the footsteps of these various antagonistic traditions and refining his technique thanks to a discovery he made in 1967-68 that enabled him to introduce subtle scale plays in his compositions, with Long Delayed Nude, Wesselmann proposed a story more complex than it seems. The 25 preparatory drawings and more he gathered in a sort of storyboard prior to the final work are indicative enough of the artist's desire to build a real narrative. A narrative in which nearly every element is patent, leaving little room to fantasy in a particularly crude transposition of the American material world.
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