Tom Wesselmann’s series Great American Nude (begun 1961) first brought him to the attention of the art world. After a dream concerning the phrase “red, white, and blue”, he decided to paint a Great American Nude in a palette limited to those colors and any colors associated with patriotic motifs such as gold and khaki. The series incorporated representational images with an accordingly patriotic theme, such as American landscape photos and portraits of founding fathers. Often these images were collaged from magazines and discarded posters, which called for a larger format than Wesselmann had used previously. Wesselmann became one of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s, rejecting abstract expressionism in favor of the classical representations of the nude, still life, and landscape. He created collages and assemblages incorporating everyday objects and advertising ephemera in an effort to make images as powerful as the abstract expressionism he admired.
Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1931. He attended Hiram College in Ohio from 1949 to 1951 before entering the University of Cincinnati. In 1953 his studies were interrupted by a two-year enlistment in the army. He returned to the university in 1954 and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1956; he decided to pursue a career in cartooning and enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. After graduation he moved to New York City, accepted into the Cooper Union where his focus shifted dramatically to fine art. He received his diploma in 1959. Wesselmann’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Wesselmann lived and worked in New York City for more than four decades, he died in 2004.