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Tom Wesselmann (USA 1931‑2004)

”Study for Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 9 – 12 November 2021

Lot 2 Tom Wesselmann (USA 1931‑2004). ”Study for Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette”. Signed and dated Wesselmann 80 and 1980 on the overlap. Oil on canvas, 25.5 x 36 cm.

Numbered 80‑25 on the overlap.
Compare to the larger version ”Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette” from 1981 sold at Phillips, New York, Contemporary Art
Evening Sale, 14 May 2015, lot 56.
This work is registered in the archives of the Wesselmann Estate and Studio.


Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, sold in December 1982.
An Important Private Swedish Collection, most likely acquired from the above.


Odakyu Grand Gallery, Tokyo, Pop Art USA – UK: American and British artists of the 60s in the 80s, exhibition catalogue, 1987, compare to illustrated painting “Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette” p. 79.

In context

Tom Wesselmann’s “Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette”, 1980

Through his striking still lifes, Tom Wesselmann expresses modern American life. The theme became his most beloved together with the nudes, and he returned to the genre many times during his lifetime. The artist explained: ”… in choosing representational painting, I decided to do, as my subject matter, the history of art: I would do nudes, still lifes, landscapes, interiors, portraits, etc. It didn’t take long before I began to follow my most active interests: nudes and still lifes.” By arranging everyday objects and combining contrasting materials and shapes, such as colourful fruits with a white cigarette, or a glass jar next to a shiny metal box, Wesselmann managed to establish new relationships between the objects. He believed that a strong relationship could only be created when items from different realities were placed next to each other, so that they could trade on each other and generate energy. His still lifes are powerful images of seemingly random objects, inviting the viewer to gaze into the modern American society and everyday life. 

Tom Wesselmann spent many years of his life producing small to large-scale works and repurposing popular imagery. As a former cartoonist and leading figure within the Pop Art movement, Wesselmann further explored the ideas of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in his art. His canvases burst with colour, as he incorporates visual objects in his works painted in a bold and joyful palette, relating to modern pop culture and cartoon magazines. The colours became essential for his way of expression in every series he ever made during his lifetime, from the female nude skin and red lips to the wafting grey smoke and colourful interiors or objects. He searched for elements of contemporary city life, non-figurative and figurative, and gave them new contexts. “I can’t do a big hat; I can’t do a big anything, because it’s just a big something – a big piece of ”Pop” crap. So there are only a very few things that I can work with that can be abstract enough so the abstract aspect of it can dominate its form… Because everything else for me is just doing a big something or other, unless I do groupings.” (Tom Wesselmann, Oral history interview with Tom Wesselmann, Archives of American Art, 1984). 

Tom Wesselmann poses with his work in the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York City in 1983. 
Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.
Tom Wesselmann poses with his work in the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York City in 1983. Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.

Tom Wesselmann became one of the leading figures of American Pop Art in the 1960s, famous for rejecting abstract expressionism in favour of nudes, still lifes and landscapes. His thrive was to make his images as powerful as the abstract expressionism, by choosing everyday objects that people could easily recognise and relate to. The late 1960s marked a breaking point in Wesselmann’s career, as he shifted away from commercial objects in favour of recurring figurative images. Balancing between classical and commercial themes, his still lifes are not derived from a deeper meaning associated with the object as is common in traditional genres, but through the interaction of objects and their different features. In “Study for Still Life with Blue Jar and Smoking Cigarette” Wesselmann has placed an orange, a blue cosmetic jar and a burning cigarette together. There is always an underlying sense of humour and sensuality in the works of Tom Wesselmann. In the present work, the circular form of the orange and its darker navel that is placed in the very centre reminds one of a woman’s breast. The sensuously-shaped orange is a recurring object in Tom Wesselmann’s oeuvre and is seen in his early numbered still life series from the 1960s. The wafting smoke finding its way in between the objects is usually seen in Wesselmann’s iconic series with smoking women wearing red lipstick, suggesting a sensual hint to this striking still life.

The present painting is a study for a large-scale oil on canvas, which was executed in 1981 and sold at Phillips, New York, Contemporary Art Evening sale, 14 May 2015, lot 56. The composition in both works is well balanced between the elements and they are given equal presence and space. In the study included in this sale, the objects are life-sized, as if the artist painted what was just in front of him. “Along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Jim Dine, Mr. Wesselmann belonged to a generation of artists who gave American art and culture a new sense of itself. They found inspiration, source materials and even working method in advertising, movies, food labels, household appliances, newspaper front pages and in commercial art techniques like silkscreen, Benday dots and billboard painting. The changes they wrought continue to reverberate through contemporary art and life”. (R. Smith, Tom Wesselmann, 73, Pop Artist Known for Sleek Nudes, Is Dead, New York Times, December 20, 2004). 

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