Tom Wesselmann was born on 23 February 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1949, he attended the Hiram College, Ohio, before entering the University of Cincinnati in 1951. His studies were interrupted for two years when he was enlisted in the army in 1952, though it was during this time he began to draw cartoons. Wesselmann graduated with a psychology degree in 1954 but decided he wanted to pursue a career in cartooning, so he enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In 1956, he moved to New York, where he enrolled in an arts course at the Cooper Union; Wesselmann’s focus shifted from cartooning to fine art and he graduated with a diploma in 1959. Whilst studying at the Cooper Union, he met Claire Selley, who would become his wife and lifelong muse.


After receiving his diploma, Wesselmann co-founded the Judson Gallery with Marc Ratliff and Jim Dine. Working as a high school maths and art teacher during the day, he continued to expand his practice with his Great American Nude series (1961-75), which would associate him with the nascent Pop art movement and draw the attention of the art world when first exhibited in a solo show at Tanager Gallery, New York (1961). The series combined sensual depictions of the female figure with references to art history and popular culture, with many of the female subjects painted in patriotic red, white, and blue. In the late sixties, Wesselmann created close-up views of the nude in his series of Bedroom Paintings (1968-83), which juxtaposed body parts with common bedroom objects. Meanwhile, he regularly exhibited in solo and group shows at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, and Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris, amongst many others.


Wesselmann began his other major body of work, his Standing Still Life paintings (1967-81) in the late 1960s too. These monumental works comprised of multiple shaped canvases, assembled to form individual or groups of everyday objects, and were first exhibited at Sidney Janis Gallery in 1972. In 1980, Wesselmann published his own autobiography, penned under his pseudonym, ‘Slim Stealingworth’. He continued to develop his practice and the theme of the nude in composition by beginning to work with metal in 1984, creating black-and-white and then coloured works that became increasingly three-dimensional. Wesselmann began to make abstract works in the mid-1990s and revisited some of his earlier themes on a larger scale. Wesselmann died on 17 December 2004, in New York.


Wesselmann’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK), Vienna; Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.