Catalogue entry

T03379 Wet Seal 1966

Oil on canvas and wood with attached melamine 36 7/8 × 36 × 4 (934 × 915 × 100)
Inscribed ‘Allen Jones Wet Seal 1966/36" × 36"’ on stretcher and ‘Allen Jones 1966’ on back of canvas
Purchased from Waddington Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: The artist; Waddington Galleries 1982
Exh: Allen Jones, Arthur Tooth and Sons, June–July 1967 (3, repr.); Pop Art in England, BC tour, Kunstverein, Hamburg, February–March 1976, Stadt Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, April–May 1976, Cïty Art Gallery, York, May–July 1976 (42, repr.); Allen Jones Retrospective of Paintings 1957–1978, organised by Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, ACGB, BC and Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden; Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, March–April 1979, Serpentine Gallery, May–June 1979, Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery, June–July 1979, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, September–October 1979, Kunsthalle, Bielefeld, November–December 1979 (26, repr.)
Lit: Paul Overy, ‘On the Streets’, Listener, LXXVIII, July 1967, p.45, repr.; Marco Livingstone, ‘Allen Jones, Sheer Magic’ 1979, pp.76, 108, 130, repr. in col. pp.62–3; Also repr: Advertising space in Studio International, CLXXIII, June 1967, p.276, announcing the artist's exhibition at Arthur Tooth and Sons

‘Wet Seal’ was painted in London immediately after Jones's return from a stay in America. He lived in New York from 1964–5 and then travelled throughout the Unites States by car. Jones created the image of the lower half of the female figure from an advertising source. The artist wrote (letter to the compiler, April 1986):

The stance of ‘Wet Seal’ comes from an image seen in a mail order brochure... at that time [1966] I used a stylization of the figure from popular sources as a way of re-inventing the figure - this of course was something done by American Pop artists too.


‘Wet Seal’ was the first in a series of five three-foot square canvases with attached shelf which the artist exhibited as a group at Arthur Tooth's gallery in June 1967; the others were ‘Drama’ 1966–7 (collection Hans Neuendorf, Hamburg), ‘Sheer Magic’ 1967 (private collection, London), ‘Gallery Gasper’ 1966–7 (private collection, Belgium) and ‘Evening Incandescence’ 1967 (private collection, London) and all but the last work were illustrated in the catalogue. The artist wrote that ‘all the titles [of these three-foot square canvases] are names of shoes that appeared in the Fredericks of Hollywood mail order catalogues of the time’. A page of shoes from a Fredericks mail order catalogue was reproduced on the fourth page of an unpaginated catalogue, Allen Jones New Paintings and Sculpture, which accompanied the artist's show at Marlborough Fine Art in September 1972. Also, Jones produced a work ‘Shoe Box’ in 1968 which contained, besides an embossed screenprint of a ballet shoe, seven lithographs based on mail order catalogue reproductions of shoes, and the overall shape of the shoe in ‘Wet Seal’ is like that of lithograph No.5 from ‘Shoe Box’. Prior to his series of three-foot square canvases of 1966–7 concentrating on the legs and feet of female figures, Jones had worked on a larger scale, favouring a canvas height of six feet, approximately the size of an average adult, for paintings containing full-size male and female figures. Even though ‘Wet Seal’ contains a fragment, the lower half of a female figure, ‘anatomically the image seems life-size on a 3' × 3' size canvas’.

Although Jones had begun in 1966 to introduce the painted image of a highly modelled, life-size leg and foot in a high-heeled shoe, with the shoe resting along the lower edge of the canvas, ‘Wet Seal’ was the first work to include a small melamine covered wooden shelf, made by the artist himself, which protruded forward four inches from the canvas surface. The artist wrote:

The shelf was to encourage the notion that the image might enter our space (something posited by all illusionistic painting). In actuality the ‘fact’ of the shelf served to underline the flatness of the canvas- paradoxically allowing the possibility of extreme modelling to take place - without the picture space collapsing! Enough modelling to provoke the sense of touch, but not enough to suggest that someone was being depicted.


The left leg in ‘Wet Seal’ is highly modelled and offers a convincing three-dimensionality whereas the right leg is painted flatly and left unfinished at the foot, with the unmodulated pigment necessary for its realisation daubed along the edge between canvas surface and shelf surface.

The motif of legs and shoes in ‘Wet Seal’ is seen again in two works by Jones of 1968, ‘Desire Me’ (Victoria and Albert Museum) and ‘Man Pleaser’ (private collection, Italy). The artist wrote that those pictures had the lower half of ‘Wet Seal’ photographically enlarged, requiring me to complete the rest of the figure using another technique ... I liked the idea of re-using a unique image (hand-painted), for multiple purposes. The repetition of an image demotes its literal significance and can underscore thereby the formal preoccupation present.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986