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TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)

 
TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in. TOM WESSELMANN - Bedroom Brunette with Irises - oil on cut-out aluminum - 105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in.
Bedroom Brunette with Irises1988/2004105 3/4 x 164 5/8 in.(268.61 x 418.15 cm) oil on cut-out aluminum
Provenance
Robert Miller Gallery
Private Collection, New York, 2004
Exhibition
Wesselmann, T., Aquin, S., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (2012). Tom Wesselmann
Munich: Prestel
 
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“The challenge for an artist is always to find your own way of doing something.” – Tom Wesselmann

History

Tom Wesselmann will undoubtedly be remembered for associating his erotic themes with the colors of the American flag. But Wesselmann had considerable gifts as a draftsman, and the line was his principal preoccupation, first as a cartoonist, and later as an ardent admirer of Matisse. That he also pioneered a method of turning drawings into laser-cut steel wall reliefs proved a revelation. He began to focus ever more on drawing for the sake of drawing, enchanted that the new medium could be lifted and held: “It really is like being able to pick up a delicate line drawing from the paper.”

The Steel Drawings caused both excitement and confusion in the art world. After acquiring one of the ground-breaking works in 1985, the Whitney Museum of American Art wrote Wesselmann wondering if it should be catalogued as a drawing or a sculpture. The work had caused such a stir that when Eric Fischl visited Wesselmann at his studio and saw steel-cut works for the first time, he remembered feeling jealous. He wanted to try it but dared not. It was clear: ‘Tom owned the technique completely.’

Wesselmann owed much of that technique to his year-long collaboration with metalwork fabricator Alfred Lippincott. Together, in 1984 they honed a method for cutting the steel with a laser that provided the precision he needed to show the spontaneity of his sketches. Wesselmann called it ‘the best year of my life’, elated at the results that he never fully achieved with aluminum that required each shape be hand-cut.  “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…it was so exciting…a kind of near ecstasy, anyway, but there’s really been something about the new work that grabbed me.”

More
  • Wesselmann_History1
    Tom Wesselmann, circa 1990
  • Wesselmann_History2
    Henri Matisse, “Odalisque”, 1926, Oil on Canvas, Baltimore Museum of Art
  • Wesselmann_History3
    “Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises”, Charcoal and Pastel on Paper, 64.88 x 94.37 in.
“The prime mission of my art, in the beginning, and continuing still, is to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art.” – Tom Wesselmann

MARKET INSIGHTS

  • Wesselmann_AMR
  • Since 1976 Wesselmann’s market has grown with a 5.6% annual rate of return.
  • Bedroom Brunette with Irises is among the largest works by the artist to come on to the market
  • Wesselmann conceived of this piece in 1988 and had it fabricated in 2004 just before his death in December of that year – it is among his last great works. 
  • Wesselmann’s female figures are among his most desirable and most sought-after subject matter
  • This piece has been in the same private collection since it was created.

Top Results at Auction

“Great American Nude no. 48” (1963), oil and collage on canvas, acrylic and collage on board, enameled radiator and assemblage, 84 x 106 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 May 2008 for $10,681,000 USD
“Great American Nude no. 48” (1963), oil and collage on canvas, acrylic and collage on board, enameled radiator and assemblage, 84 x 106 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 May 2008 for $10,681,000 USD
“Smoker no. 9” (1973), oil and Liquitex gesso on linen, 83 x 89 1/2 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 13 May 2008 for $6,761,000 USD
“Smoker no. 9” (1973), oil and Liquitex gesso on linen, 83 x 89 1/2 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 13 May 2008 for $6,761,000 USD
“Smoker no. 17” (1973), oil on shaped canvas, 96 x 131 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 15 May 2007 for $5,864,000 USD
“Smoker no. 17” (1973), oil on shaped canvas, 96 x 131 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 15 May 2007 for $5,864,000 USD

Comparable Works Sold at Auction

“Still Life with Four Lizes” (1991), alkyd on cut-out steel, 68 x 80 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 14 May 2021 for $2,070,000 USD
“Still Life with Four Lizes” (1991), alkyd on cut-out steel, 68 x 80 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 14 May 2021 for $2,070,000 USD
  • Comparable medium, and our piece more than twice the size of this one
  • While it has color, it does not have the same female imagery that is so iconic within Wesselmann’s oeuvre
  • Sold for over $2M which is $380 per square inch, while Bedroom Brunette with Irises is only $115 per square inch which is 1/3 the price overall

“Bedroom Blonde with Iris” (1987),  enamel on laser-cut steel, 53.7 x 83.3 in. Christie’s New York: 14 November 2019 for $399,000 USD
“Bedroom Blonde with Iris” (1987), enamel on laser-cut steel, 53.7 x 83.3 in. Christie’s New York: 14 November 2019 for $399,000 USD
  • This artwork is 1/3 of the size of ours with the same imagery
  • Sold in November 2019 for $399,000 which was more than double its $180,000 high estimate, a testament to the increasing strength of Wesselmann’s market
“Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises” (1993), charcoal and pastel on paper, 65 x 94 ½ in. Sold at Phillips London: 13 February 2020 for $489,428 USD
“Reverse Drawing: Bedroom Blonde with Irises” (1993), charcoal and pastel on paper, 65 x 94 ½ in. Sold at Phillips London: 13 February 2020 for $489,428 USD
  • A comparable subject, though only a work on paper and half the size of our piece
  • Sold for nearly half a million dollars in February 2020

Works in Museum Collections

“Seascape Number 15” (1967), Painted thermo-formed acrylic, 65 x 45 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
“Seascape Number 15” (1967), Painted thermo-formed acrylic, 65 x 45 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
“Still Life #12” (1962), acrylic and collage on fabric, photogravure and metal on fiberboard, 48 x 48 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
“Still Life #12” (1962), acrylic and collage on fabric, photogravure and metal on fiberboard, 48 x 48 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
“Cut-Out Nude” (1965), blow-formed screen printed vinyl, 8 x 16 in., The Art Institute of Chicago
“Cut-Out Nude” (1965), blow-formed screen printed vinyl, 8 x 16 in., The Art Institute of Chicago

Additional Resources

Explore the 2014 retrospective exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective
Read the 2016 profile of Tom Wesselmann in the New York Times
Watch the artist’s daughter, Kate Wesselmann, discuss the source materials for Great American Nude #53 in this feature by the BBC

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