Tom Wesselmann, Sunset Nude, Yellow Tulips, Yellow Curtain, 2003. Courtesy of Almine Rech Gallery.

Tom Wesselmann: Nudes

“I don’t depict nudes from any sociological, cultural, or emotional intention,” Tom Wesselmann once explained. “The nude, I feel, is a good way to be aggressive, figuratively. I want to stir up intensive, explosive reactions in the viewers.” Wesselmann began painting nude women in 1959, rejecting the prevailing style of Abstract Expressionism in favor of graphic, provocative portraits. Perfectly fit for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Wesselmann’s nudes often recline in suggestive poses, but with a comedic twist. His figures (many of whom are modeled after his wife, Claire Selley) boast exaggerated tan lines, drawing the viewer’s attention to their breasts and pubis. From his first series of nudes “Great American Nude” (1961–73) to his last “Sunset Nudes”(2003–04), Wesselmann experimented with new techniques (such as laser-cut steel drawings) and compositions (such as unconventional close-ups of the body) to discover new ways of tantalizing viewers with the female form. In 2008, Wesselmann’s playful rendition of art history’s classic odalisque figure, Great American Nude No. 48 (1963), fetched $10.7 million at Sotheby’s, setting a record for the artist.

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