Tom Wesselmann - Photo in his work studio in his bedroom, March 1959 - Image via matisse and gettyimagescomau

Tom Wesselmann

United States 1931 - 2004

Pop Art

Tom Wesselmann
Tom Wesselmann
United States
October 10, 2016
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Widely considered as one of the major artists of the New York Pop Art, Tom Wesselmann was an American artist best known for his stylized female nudes which were the definite focal points of his career as a painter. Due to his enormous contributions to the aforementioned Pop art, it comes as no surprise that Wesselmann’s name is often found alongside Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. However, it should be stated right away that, just like the case was with Jim Dine, Wesselmann disagreed with the label of a Pop artist on a conceptual level. Tom, in an effort to reject Abstract Expressionism, made collages and assemblages that incorporated everyday objects and advertising ephemera. Although his field of art making is extremely broad and diverse, Wesselmann is arguably best known for his Great American Nude works produced during the 1960s – this highly sexualised series featured flat figures in an intense palette of red, white, blue and other patriotic colors often associated with the United States of America.

Unlike Warhol or Lichtenstein bedroom works, early work and life of Tom were much calmer
Tom Wesselmann – Lulu, 1982 – Image via

From a Cartoonist to a Painter

Wesselmann was born and raised in the city of Cincinnati. After what was a very happy childhood, he spent two years at the Hiram College in Ohio before transferring to major in Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. Since he was drafted into service by the US Army in 1952, Tom had a lot of spare time on his hand from the moment he was stationed stateside. It was during this time that he made his first cartoons and became interested in pursuing a career in illustrating. After returning home, Wesselmann began to study drawing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and achieved some initial success, like selling his first cartoon strips to the magazines 1000 Jokes and True. Tom soon came to live in NYC and after a visit to the MoMA, he was inspired by the Robert Motherwell painting Elegy. This fascination drove Wesselmann to reject the ideas of action painting, but it also transformed him into a painter instead of a cartoonist. In the meantime, Wesselmann became one of the founding members of the Judson Gallery alongside a few friends who had just arrived in New York[1]. Tom’s series Great American Nude, begun during the year of 1961, first brought him to the attention of the art world. This series was extremely patriotic in nature as the artist focused on the use of American red, white and blue. Images also incorporated other representational depictions of patriotic themes such as American landscape photos and portraits of founding fathers. The pictures from the Great American Nude were mostly collaged from magazines and discarded posters, which called for a much larger format than Wesselmann had used previously in his career. These pieces were also the ones to be displayed at Tom’s first solo exhibition at the Tanager Gallery. Soon Wesselmann became a vital part of the Pop art scene and started both collaborating and exchanging ideas with the prominent artists of the new movement.

Although he is included among the most influential Pop art painters, Wesselmann himself never truly considered his artworks to be a part of this movement on a conceptual level

York Matisse gallery held an exhibition in 2016, depicting early life and works of Wesselmann
Tom Wesselmann – Still Life #53 1964 – Image via

Somewhere Between Pop art and Tom’s Visions

After he successfully established himself as one of the leading artists in NYC, Tom began to teach art at a public school in Brooklyn and later at the High School of Art and Design. As was clued at earlier, Wesselmann never liked his inclusion in the wrongly termed Pop Art, pointing out how he made an aesthetic use of everyday objects and not a criticism of them as consumer objects. Tom explained his unsatisfaction by stating the following: I dislike labels in general and ‘Pop’ in particular, especially because it overemphasizes the material used. There does seem to be a tendency to use similar materials and images, but the different ways they are used denies any kind of group intention. Ultimately, Wesselmann managed to reduce the classical female nude to her most essential components of lips, nips and pubes, underlined by a strong note of sexualism. After the success of the Great American Nude, Tom began working on a series of still lifes, experimenting with the potentials of assemblage. Although he conceptually distanced himself from the Pop art term, Wesselmann maintained his connections with the evolution of the movement, as evidenced by the event The American Supermarket held at the Bianchini Gallery in New York during the year of 1964[2]. Tom continued to experiment with his art for the next five decades, exploring the abilities of collage, limitations of assemblage and general range of his Pop-like concepts. Additionally, Wesselman was a self-confessed fan of country music and sometimes incorporated operating radios, TVs or other sound elements into his standards artworks. He also introduced new ideas on color, proved his ability to construct the composition and displayed the constant tendency towards new materials – all the while maintaining his highly sexual and colorful style. Whilst working on a throw-back series of Sunset Nudes in 2003/4, Wesselmann suddenly had severe complications with his already unstable heart condition. Following a failed surgery, Tom died on December 17, 2004, alone in his hospital bedroom. His life and work were a crucial study of Pop art, although his painting did not have anything to do with the style of Andy Warhol and other representatives of the movement.

Tom had an extremely wide range of practices, but his fame was mostly earned by his element-striped depictions of sexualized themes

Making a parallel between collage works from 1959 and 2004, as work and life differed
Tom Wesselmann – Nude with rose – Image via

Tom Wesselmann and his Place in Art History

As is usually the case, the years following Wesselmann’s death were marked by a sudden and renewed interest in his life and work. Many retrospective shows were held and Tom’s contributions to the Pop art evolution were finally brought to full light, despite his regular protest against the membership in this movement. Wesselmann’s legacy was secured whilst his Venuses with tan lines, cigarettes dangling from their rocket-red mouths and modern nudes sprawling across furniture in suggestive poses effectively entered art history. Ultimately, after all was said and done, it comes as no surprise that the legendary Jim Dine once stated that Tom may very well be one of America’s greatest modern painters to date[3].

This artist is represented by Woodward Gallery New York, Galerie Fluegel-Roncak, Galerie Thalberg Zurich, Puccio Fine Art, and Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art Miami.


  1. Aquin, S., Tom Wesselmann, Prestel Publishing, 2012
  2. Fritz, N., Tom Wesselmann: Pictures on the wall of your heart, Ravensburg, Germany, 2008
  3. Letze, O., Tom Wesselmann, Cantz, 1996

Featured image: Tom Wesselmann – Photo in his studio in March 1969 – Image via
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2014Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann RetrospectiveDenver Art Museum, Denver, COSolo
2014Tom Wesselmann - Prints / Drawings / PaintingsGalerie Hafenrichter,NurembergSolo
2014Summer Group ShowGalerie Fluegel-Roncak, NurembergGroup
2014Pop Art MythsMuseo Thyssen-Bornemisza, MadridGroup
2014GirlGalerie Emmanuel Perrotin - Paris, ParisGroup
2014The Shaped CanvasRevisited - Luxembourg & Dayan, New York City, NYGroup
2014Pop Art PrintsSmithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DCGroup
2014Group ExhibitionGuy Hepner Contemporary, West Hollywood, CAGroup
2014Pop! Andy Warhol and artists from the collection of the Housatonic Museum of ArtHousatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport, CTGroup
2014Fläche und FormGALERIE Supper, Baden-BadenGroup
2013Pop Art And Beyond: Tom WesselmannVirginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VASolo
2013Modern Masters On View In Palm BeachMark Borghi Fine Art - New York, New York City, NYGroup
2013Sein oder nicht seinDas zeitgenössiche Porträt - munichmodern, MunichGroup
2013Galen at The GalenPalm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CAGroup
2013BeerThe Green Gallery East, Milwaukee, WIGroup
2013Goho - 9. Gostenhofer Atelier- Und WerkstatttageGalerie Hafenrichter, NurembergGroup
2013American Pop Art:From the John and Kimiko Powers Collection The National Art Center Tokyo, TokyoGroup
2013Summer Views Galerie Hafenrichter, NurembergGroup
2013Pop! Pop!! Pop!!! Selections from the Hara Museum CollectionHara Museum ARC, ShibukawaGroup
2013Summer Group ShowGalerie Fluegel-Roncak, NurembergGroup
2013Bonjour Monsieur Matisse! Rencontre(s)MAMAC - Musee d´Art Moderne et d`Art Contemporain Nice, NiceGroup
2013Sweet Dreams, Baby! Life Of Pop, London To WarholAlbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NYGroup
2013Auslese - Sammlung Stiftung für Fruchtmalerei und SkulpturMannheimer Kunstverein, MannheimGroup
2013Visual Leitmotifs - Variations on ThemesRosenbaum Contemporary, Boca Raton, FLGroup
2013Summer SelectionsHollis Taggart Galleries, New York City, NYGroup
2013The Pop Object: The Still Life Tradition in Pop ArtAcquavella Galleries, Inc., New York City, NYGroup
2013A Century of CollageBernard Jacobson Gallery, LondonGroup
2013After PhotographyThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2012Objects Of DesireDavidson Contemporary New York City, NYSolo
2012Objects Of DesireMaxwell Davidson Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2012Beyond Pop-ArtThe Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Montreal, QCSolo
2012Group ExhibitionGalerie Jean-Francois Cazeau, ParisGroup
2012Il Était Une Fois L’impressionnismeThe Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Montreal, QCGroup
2012Testing Testing 1.2.3 : SongEun CollectionSongEun ArtSpace, SeoulGroup
2012Expanded Drawing 012Casal Solleric, Palma de MallorcaGroup
2012The Small Utopia. Ars MultiplicataFondazione Prada, VeniceGroup
2012Mysterious Treasure ChestThe Museum of Modern Art Shiga, ShigaGroup
2012AccrochageGalerie Klaus Benden, CologneGroup
2012After MayCheryl Hazan Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012From Pop Art To YbaThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2012Thanks: 50th Anniversary ExhibitionCarl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OHGroup
2012Micro ManiaGagosian Gallery, ParisGroup
2012At Home Living with Art & DesignThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2012Inauguration - 2 Avenue MatignonGalerie Laurent Strouk, ParisGroup
2012American idolsRudolf Budja Galerie / Artmosphere Salzburg, SalzburgGroup
201220th Century Pop Art MastersGalerie Gmurzynska - Zürich, ZurichGroup
2012Pop ArtKUNSTKABINETT, RegensburgGroup
2012Pop and the SixtiesMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig - MUMOK , ViennaGroup
2012You Call This ArtFlorida Gulf Coast University Art Gallery, Fort Myers, FLGroup
2011HighlightsGalerie Klaus Benden, CologneSolo
2011GrafikenGalerie Klaus Benden, CologneSolo
2011TOM WESSELMANN - Nudes and FlowersGalerie Fluegel-Roncak, NurembergSolo
2011Highlights from the Ernestine and Bradley Wayne CollectionGreenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2011Pop ArtGalerie Wolfgang Exner, ViennaGroup
2011A Summer of American Masters with Robert IndianaKM fine Arts, Chicago, ILGroup
2011Art On ArtAdam Baumgold Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2011Object as Multiple: 1960-2000Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2010Tom Wesselmann: Form, Fantasy and the NudeSongEun ArtSpace, SeoulSolo
2010HighlightsGalerie Klaus Benden, CologneSolo
2010FlowersGalerie Klaus Benden, CologneSolo
2010Tom Wesselmann - Works 1958-2004Haunch of Venison - London, London (closed, 2013)Solo
2010PopularGalerie Thomas Modern, MunichGroup
2010Hyper RealMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig - MUMOK , ViennaGroup
2010Pop ArtTroner Art Consulting, DusseldorfGroup
2010The Vision of Contemporary ArtArtsonje Museum, Gyeongju BomunGroup
2010American Pop ArtCAS / Contemporary Art Space, SalzburgGroup
2010New AcquisitionsIKON Ltd, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2010Another Nude ShowRobert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2010Art for YouLeeahn Gallery, DaeguGroup
2009Tom Wesselmann – Works on PaperBURKHARD EIKELMANN GALERIE, DusseldorfSolo
2009Journey into the landscape - steelcuts Galerie Thomas, MunichSolo
2009Something for EveryoneHamiltons Gallery, LondonGroup
2009LIGHTS! CAMERA! TRASH!Galerie Fluegel-Roncak, NurembergGroup
2009A Look at Contemporary ArtArtsonje Museum, Gyeongju BomunGroup
2009The Figure and Dr FreudHaunch of Venison, New York City, NYGroup
2009Treasures of PopGalerie Klaus Benden, CologneGroup
2009Aspects of Pop ArtGalerie Gmurzynska - Zürich, ZurichGroup
2009Sculpture: Post-War to PresentMaxwell Davidson Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2009Art in Blue Blue in Art - Sculpture, Painting and Art Furniture in BlueThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2009USA Print ShowJealous Gallery, LondonGroup
2008Tom Wesselmann - Journeys into the LandscapeBernard Jacobson Gallery, LondonSolo
2008Tom Wesselmann: Pop ArtStädtische Galerie Ravensburg, RavensburgSolo
2008Tom Wesselmann - (Proarta Prints & Multiples)Galerie Proarta, ZurichSolo
2008Pop and PhotographyOpera Gallery, Bal Harbour, FLGroup
2008Sign/Age: Lost in the SupermarketArmand Bartos Fine Art, New York City, NYGroup
2008Collector's EyeGana Art Gallery, SeoulGroup
2008Collect With USArmand Bartos Fine Art, New York City, NYGroup
2008The 30th Anniversary – Part IWetterling Gallery, StockholmGroup
2008Hot & ColdDavidson Contemporary, New York City, NYGroup
2008The Columns Gallery Artists & Contemporary MastersThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2008Original Pop Art in MiamiBkhf Gallery, Miami, FLGroup
2008Made in NYOpera Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2008Painted FacesBernarducci.Meisel.Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Drop-out- Tom Wesselmann Yvon Lambert - New York, New York City, NY (closed, 2011)Solo
2007Drop-Out Maxwell Davidson Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2007Rearing BeastJames Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2007Tom Wesselmann - Nudes LipanjePuntin Artecontemporanea - Roma, RomeSolo
2006Tom Wesselmann - liquitex - drawings - steelcutsAndipa Gallery, LondonSolo
2006Tom Wesselmann; abstracts 1997-2002 Galerie Hans Mayer, DusseldorfSolo
2006Tom Wesselmann - Works from 1960 to 2004 Galerie Hafenrichter & Flügel (ex Galeria2000), Nuremberg (closed, 2009)Solo
2006Tom Wesselmann - The SixtiesMnuchin Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2006Tom Wesselmann - The SixtiesL&M Arts, New York, New York City, NY (closed)Solo
2005Tom Wesselmann - Drawing RetrospectiveMaxwell Davidson Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2005Tom WesselmannMACRO - Museo d´Arte Contemporanea Roma, RomeSolo
2004Tom Wesselmann - MixografiaCarl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OHSolo
2003Tom Wesselmann - Drawings In Steel & On PaperCarl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OHSolo
2003Tom Wesselmann: The Intimate ImagesUAM - University Art Museum, Long Beach, CASolo
2003Tom Wesselmann - smoker studiesGalleria Arte e Arte, BolognaSolo
2001Tom Wesselmann - Graphik und Multiples Galerie Benden & Klimczak Edition Kunst Parterre GmbH, CologneSolo
2001Abstract Maquettes - Tom WesselmannGalerie Fahnemann, BerlinSolo
2000Tell it like it isGalerie Jürgen Kalthoff, EssenSolo
1998Tom Wesselmann - Six Canvases on a ThemeThe Mayor Gallery, LondonSolo
1998Der Pop-Artist Tom Wesselmann Galerie & Edition Bode GmbH, NurembergSolo
1996Tom Wesselmann, 1959-1993MAMAC - Musee d´Art Moderne et d`Art Contemporain Nice, NiceSolo
1995Tom Wesselmann - Een overzicht 1959-1993Kunsthal Rotterdam, RotterdamSolo
1994Tom Wesselmann - Retrospektive 1959-1993 Altes Museum, BerlinSolo
1982Tom Wesselmann: SculptureMargo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (closed, 2012)Solo
1970Tom Wesselman: Early Still LifesOrange County Museum of Art, Newport BeachSolo
1970Tom Wesselmann - Bilder und BlätterGalerie Brusberg im Kubus, Hannover (closed, 1977)Solo