Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Tom Wesselmann
1931 - 2004
signed and dated 65 3/65
acrylic and pencil on paper
33 by 30.8 cm. 13 by 12 1/8 in.
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Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Green Gallery, New York
Samuel and Luella Maslon, California
Sotheby's, New York, 16 May 2002, Lot 157
Private Collection
Phillips de Pury, New York, 13 November 2008, Lot 32
Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, The American Federation of Arts, The Figure International, September 1965 - September 1966
Montreal, Museum of Fine Art, Tom Wesselmann: Beyond Pop, May - October 2012
Virginia, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Pop Art and Beyond: Tom Wesselmann, April - July 2013
Denver, Denver Art Museum; and Cincinnati, Cininnati Art Museum, Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective, July 2014 - January 2015, p. 100, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Tom Wesselmann’s trademark nude figure, defined only by her scarlet lips, nipples and bleach blond hair reclines against the iconic star of the American flag in Study for Great American Nude #75. The present work is a superb exemplar of Wesselmann’s singular artistic language described by Roberta Smith as “a sensuous heat and close-up intimacy that were one part sex and four parts astutely considered colour and scale” (Roberta Smith, ‘Tom Wesselmann, 73, Pop Artist Known for Sleek Nudes, Is Dead’, The New York Times, 20 December 2004, online).

In Wesselmann’s Great American Nude series, vibrant and joyous odalisques are decorated with the paraphernalia of 1960s American life and radiate an electric sensuality, shrouded with a sense of enthusiasm and optimism. This is perfectly encapsulated in the present work by the coy smile of the model and the centrality of the gleaming crimson red star, an unmistakable visual reference to the American flag. This figure, presented in the simplified and chromatically intense visual language of mass media, exemplifies the American blond bombshell fantasy, a trophy of the American middle class. In Study for Great American Nude #75 Wesselmann mobilised the deadpan style of Pop Art to magnificent effect, bringing the subject of the female nude to relevance in post war America. Taking inspiration from a long and rich lineage of the subject of the female nude, particularly drawing upon the works of Henri Matisse and Willem de Kooning, “Wesselmann found another way around Abstract Expressionism while keeping his subject matter within a fully sanctioned fine art context.” (David McCarthy, ‘Tom Wesselmann and the Americanization of the Nude’, 1961-1963, Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Vol. 4, No. 3/4, 1990, p. 110). Wesselmann brought the subject of the female nude to relevance in post war America, with a keen sense of irony and cool use of parody. The Great American Nude #75 visually mocks the colourful, synthetic aesthetic of American advertisement, while the title references the concept of the ‘Great American Dream’ or the ‘Great American Novel’, candidly poking fun at the apparent grandeur of a uniquely American sense of ambition.

The Great American Nude series propelled Tom Wesselmann to the forefront of the 1960s New York Art scene, positioning the artist as one of the founding fathers of Pop Art. Study for Great American Nude #75 embodies the spirit of the sixties, truly standing as a symbol of Pop Art in America.

Contemporary Art Day Auction