Tom Wesselmann Biography

Painter, Sculptor, Illustrator (1931–2004)
Tom Wesselmann was a collagist, printmaker and sculptor who was a leading Pop Art figure, often focusing on female nudes and magnified objects.


Born on February 23, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio, cartoonist and collagist Tom Wesselmann eventually moved to New York City to become one of the founding figures of the Pop Art movement, making waves with his "Great American Nude" series. He later became well known for his huge canvas paintings of household objects as well as his printmaking and abstract work. He died on December 17, 2004.


Tom Wesselmann was born on February 23, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attended university before serving in the Korean War during the early 1950s. While overseas he began to craft cartoons, and upon his return to the States he earned a psychology degree from the University of Cincinnati. He then enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and later the Cooper Union in New York City, finishing his studies by the late 1950s.

'Great American Nude' Series

"New York lit him on fire," said Wesselmann's second wife, Claire—a fellow Cooper Union student and model for her husband—about the city's creative scene at that time. Having presumed he would continue cartoon work, Wesselmann was inspired by innovative exhibitions to go in a new direction and worked as a collagist, having initial showings at the Tanager and Green galleries by the early '60s.

He began to create art that incorporated commonplace real-world items with historical portraiture, often focusing on a reclining female nude. Hence he became known for his "Great American Nude" series, linked to more classical works. Due to his particular aesthetic, he was seen, along with figures like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as one of the purveyors of Pop Art, though Wesselmann stated that he didn't care for the term. Later in the decade his pieces were exhibited in Europe and Brazil.

'Standing Still Life' Series

During the '70s, Wesselmann completed his "Nude" series and went down a specific path with his "Standing Still Life" paintings, which featured objects such as keys and a toothbrush magnified to larger-than-life scale on canvas. He also became known for the "Smokers" series, zeroing in on disembodied presentations of hands and lips, and his "Bedroom Painting" art, with close-ups of objects, forms and faces in vivid color.

Having become an established international artist who was also known for his printmaking, Wesselmann later played with ideas around sculpture and metalwork. In the new millennium he returned to the nude figure, this time in a more abstract sense though continuing his use of an electric palette.

Death and Retrospectives

Wesselmann died on December 17, 2004, in New York, after heart surgery, and was survived by his wife Claire and three children. Wesselmann had published his autobiography in 1980, using the alias Slim Stealingworth. Published retrospectives include Tom Wesselmann: His Voice and Vision from Rizzoli International and Wesselmann from Prestel Publishing.

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