Work of the Week! WOW! Tom Wesselmann – Monica Lying on One Elbow

Tom Wesselmann
Monica Lying on One Elbow
Alkyd oil on cutout steel
8 x 13 in.
Edition of 25
Signed and numbered on verso

About the work:

Considered by many to be a Pop artist, Tom Wesselmann would rather be called an artist of the post-Matisse era, according to his wife Claire. His works recall Matisse, in a contemporary setting.

Nothing can be truer, as evidence by this week’s Work of the Week! WOW! Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe by Tom Wesselmann is a steel cut out painted alkyd oils created in 1986, and the edition was completed in 1997. We can see how it can be compared to Matisse’s Odalisques.

In the 80’s, Wesslemann started toying with the idea of capturing the spontaneity of his sketches, complete with false lines and errors, and realize them in the permanence of metal. He called these cut outs “Steel Drawings”. When the first steel cut was realized, Wesselmann commented, “I anticipated how exciting it would be for me to get a drawing back in steel. I could hold it in my hands. I could pick it up by the lines, off the paper. It was so exciting. It was like suddenly I was a whole new artist.”

Odalisques were the most popular subject of Matisse’s Nice period, during the 1920s. They appear in diverse poses in innumerable canvases: reclining, lounging, seated, or standing, frequently with their arms raised or folded behind the head. Dressed or semi-dressed in exotic attire, they are placed against a decorative background of richly patterned fabrics and oriental rugs and surrounded by oriental accoutrements. Matisse’s primary model for these depictions, from 1920 to 1927, was Henriette Darricarrière, a young woman skilled in the arts of ballet, piano, violin, and painting who lived near Matisse’s studio.

The model’s sculpturesque body, languorously stretching across a couch, exudes sensuality and carnality, enhanced by her seductive attire or painterly patterned backgrounds. The mood is clearly palpable. Yet, contemplating the work, one gets the impression that the artist somehow distanced himself from the erotic content of the picture while leaving the excitement of recognition to the viewer.

All this can be said of Wesselmann’s images of Monica, who was Tom Wesselmann’s favorite muse. This steel drawing cut out, Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe, is a modern day Odalisque.

Here the viewer is drawn to Monica, by her seductive reclining position, and her half opened robe, exposing just enough, suggesting sensuality. Leaving no attention to detail behind, Wesselmann goes through great length to make sure that Monica’s robe is a full of little details such as the multicolored flowers on the lapels, and cuffs. This can be thought of as a contemporary tip of the hat to Matisse’s patterned backgrounds in his painting.

It is this detail that makes this particular steel cut the most rare and desirable of all the editioned steel cutouts. Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe is considered the most sought after steel cut.

Work Of the Week – Tom Wesselmann “Wildflower Bouquet”

Wildflower Bouquet

Wildflower Bouquet
Enamel on laser-cut steel
38 x 24 3/4 in.
Edition of 30

Signed and numbered on bottom and on verso

About This Work:

Tom Wesselmann was born on February 23, 1931 in Cincinnati, OH.
During his youth, he was called up for military service due to the Korea war. Being discontented with his situation, he began to draw cartoons at that time. After military service, he moved to New York City to attend The Cooper Union, graduating in in 1959 with a diploma in fine art.

In New York, he started earning his living by working as a cartoonist for several journals and magazines as well as by teaching at a high school in Brooklyn.
At the end of the 1950’s, he created a series of collages in small format, that are now being regarded as precursors of the later series “Still life” in big format and “Great American Nudes”.

Even though he disagreed with being labeled a “Pop” artist, Wesselmann’s work is considered belonging to the Pop art movement. During his artistic career, he experimented with materials and imagery; both collage and sculpture found their way into his assemblages. When he was not working on stylized female nudes (these works are actually what he is best known for), common objects were the main theme of his art work. This is the case of this work of the week, Wildflower Bouquet.

Wildflower Bouquet is one of Wesselmann’s famous so-called Steel Drawings.
In the early 1980’s, Wesselmann had the idea to capture the spontaneity of his sketches, complete with false lines and errors, and realize them in the permanence of metal. Wesselmann sought a way to draw in steel. He envisioned the illusion of lifting the lines from his drawings and placing them directly on the wall. Once installed, the pieces appear to be drawn on the wall.

With the invention of the Steel Drawings, Wesselmann began to focus more on drawing for the sake of drawing. For the first time he was approaching art on a new basis, where the scribble was the final product. The drawings that would be transferred into steel were selected carefully and their crisp outlines resonated with the immediacy of a neon sign.
What excited Wesselmann the most about these new works was that his intimate sketches could be magnified to a monumental size, yet somehow, could still maintain their free and spontaneous quality.

The drawings were usually the preliminary sketches to his other works, like paintings or prints. However, when making a comparison between the same image done in two different media, for example a steel cut-out and a painting, one can notice how the artist subtly played changes on his formal language in the treatment of the outlines, or in the spaces in between.

Wesselmann was also deeply influenced by Matisse, who had long been a source of inspiration for him. In the metal works, Wesselmann can be understood to have devised his own equivalent to the paper cut-outs that had marked Matisse’s equally bold and life-affirming last phase.

The steel drawings represent Wesselmann’s best-known technical innovation.
His idea preceded the available technology for mechanically laser-cutting metal with the accuracy that Wesselmann needed. He invested a lot of time in the development of a system that could accomplish this, embarking on a year-long journey with metalworks fabricator Alfred Lippincott to develop a technique that could cut steel with the precision that he needed. Laser-cut paper and metal are materials now utilized by countless artists.

Wesselmann’s Steel Drawings caused both excitement and confusion in the art world. After acquiring a piece in 1985, the Whitney Museum of American Art wrote to Wesselmann asking why he had labeled the work a drawing and not a sculpture. His response was that while he considered it a pure drawing, it was “an example of life not necessarily being as simple as one might wish”. 

WOW! – Work Of the Week – Tom Wesselmann “Blonde Vivienne”

Blonde Vivienne

Blonde Vivienne
56 1/4 x 56 3/4 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed and numbered

About This Work:

Considered by many to be a Pop artist, Tom Wesselmann would rather be called an artist of the post-Matisse era. His works recall Matisse, in a contemporary setting. It’s not hard to understand why categorizing Wesselmann is difficult. The use of erotic images against familiar backgrounds in his work, clean lines and the feel of kitsch exemplifies Pop art, but Wesselmann really never felt like his artwork was part of this artistic movement.

Many people know Wesselmann for his nudes. He spent his whole life trying to paint and capture the Great American Nude. However, according to him, he was never able to achieve his goal. He started the Great American Nude series in 1961, where the nude becomes a depersonalized sex symbol set in a commonplace environment. As we can see by Blonde Vivienne, he emphasizes the woman’s hair, mouth neck collar and nipples of her breast, while the rest of the body is usually depicted in flat, unmodulated color or – this is the case – as an empty or negative space. The background is painted in the positive, supplies context and accentuates the negative.

There are many different nudes by this artist but they all have one thing in common: when Wesselmann depicts a nude he is not clearly and loudly representing a subject, but he is alluding to and “sketching” a situation, a little gesture or a moment in time. The artist wants us to read into the situation and draw a conclusion for ourselves. Is the Blonde Vivienne sleeping? Is she feeling some kind of pleasure or is she just resting on the couch? The observer is free to choose a personal interpretation of the subject.

This also may be the reason why he was so interested in the spaces in and around his drawings. He shifts the focus and scale of the standing objects around a nude; these objects are relatively small in relation to the nude, but sometimes they become major, even dominant elements.

To add more mystery, every work is also painted at a particular and/or an unusual angle or point of view. By focusing on the situation, the angle and the details of the background, the viewer is able to imagine what the subject is going through or feeling. For example, in this particular work the viewer is looking at the Blonde Vivienne through a peephole, giving us a sort of voyeuristic point of view.

Thus, Blonde Vivienne is a perfect example of showcasing the complexities of a Wesselmann painting. Pop elements occupying space in the positive giving focus to a Matisse like, modern day Odalisque in the negative, captured at a particular view or moment in time, causing the viewer to put it all into one context that he or she can envision for themselves.

For more information and price please contact the gallery at

WOW! – Work of the Week 9/14/15

Tom Wesselmann, Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude


Tom Wesselmann, Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude, 1991


 Tom Wesselmann
Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude
26 x 36 5/8 in.
Edition of 100                                                                                                              Pencil signed & numbered


About This Work:

Considered by many to be a Pop artist, Tom Wesselmann would rather be called an artist of the post-Matisse era, according to his wife Claire.  Nothing can be truer, as evidence by his screenprint entitled Fast Sketch RedStockinged Nude.  This work screams of Matisse, in a contemporary setting.

After a dream concerning the phrase “red, white, and blue”, Wesselmann spent his entire career trying to depict the Great American Nude.  Many of these nudes show an accentuated, more explicit, sensuality. Often times, Wesselmann did not even need to paint the entire female body to exude sensuality.  He would simply depict a woman’s mouth with intensely red painted lips with cigarette smoke coming out of it, or red painted fingernails holding a smoking cigarette to imply or suggest sexual fulfillment.  At the same time, Wesselmannincorporated the use of negative space (the white or colorless area) as the image, and the positive (use of color) to direct our eyes to this negative space.

Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude is a perfect example of Wesselmann’s concept.  Here the viewer is drawn to this modern day Odalisque, by her vibrant red stockings, but the main image is that of the negative space.  The choice of the color red for her stockings suggest sensuality, as well as her reclining position.  Is she just relaxing with her hand on her breast, or does he suggest a form of titillation?  Lets leave that for the viewer to interpret.

In the early 1980’s Wasselmann was consumed with the idea of creating a drawing by using steel.  These were know as his “steelcuts”  His fast sketched designs would be the basis for these works.  These fast sketches would enable him to form, and cut his images out of steel, while still maintaining a resembled gestural brush stroke, or a drawn line.

Again, Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude is created with this technique in mind.  The simplistic clean lines reduces the work, where it could be considered pop art, but the real intention of the artist was to simplify the work enough just to accentuate the sensuality and sexuality of his women.

About The Artist:

Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati in 1931, and studied art first in Cincinnati, then in New York at the Cooper Union.   When he was a student at Cooper Union, he was much influenced by Abstract Expressionism, especially Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. However, he turned away from that style because he determined these artists had become so introspective that there was little room for creative exploration by others.

His reaction took him to Pop Art, the other extreme of action painting to a tightly controlled style and subject matter that was mundane–the antithesis of psychological complexities. Wesselmann, like Andy Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud, asserted that everyday objects had significance unto themselves and that they were worthy of depiction because of a common understanding about what they were.  Wesselmann was one of the contributors to the three original portfolios that launched the Pop Art Movement

Thus, along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, Wesselmann started experiments in 1959 with small, abstract collages. Then, in 1960, he adopted advertising images to make bold amusing still lifes and interiors, collages and assemblages using commonplace household items, and often, a highly stylized female nude.  This is what brought him fame and notoriety as a founder of American POP ART.

In the late 1960s an increasingly dominant eroticism emerged in works, with its more literal but still intense colours and tight, formal composition. The pictorial elements, exaggerated in their arabesque forms and arbitrary coloring, became significantly larger in scale in his works of the 1970s.   Enormous, partially free-standing still-lifes moved into sculptural space, and finally became discrete sculptures of sheet metal. In the 1980s he returned to works for the wall with cut-out steel or aluminium drawings.

He has pioneered a number of art forms now strongly associated with him, namely his ‘drop outs’ where negative shapes become positive shapes and his ‘cutouts’ which utilize laser cut metal to create extraordinary three-dimensional drawings. He too, has been a remarkable printmaker having created large, spectacular silkscreens and lithographs.

His works are in most major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., the Walker ArtCenter and the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts in Minneapolis, the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Worcester Art Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts in Kansas City MO, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and many others. His works can also be seen in important public museums in Germany, France, Denmark.

For more information and price please contact the gallery at