The Value of the Works of Tom Wesselmann
As a leading figure of the Pop Art movement, Tom Wesselmann spent many years of his life repurposing popular imagery to produce works that burst with color. He is known for constantly reinventing himself as an artist as he explored innovative techniques and applications. As other artists moved away from the realism of figurative painting, Wesselmann opted for an antithetical approach. He took sensual and practical elements of city life and represented them in a way that often mirrored the methodologies of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
The artist incorporated pop culture objects in his works as pure containers of bold color. These became the foundation for his now-iconic suggestive figurative canvases. Wesselmann often underscored important issues within art history such as the development and continuation of the art historical canon and relationship between the viewer and image as well as the ever-changing balance between the female nude the current definition of beauty. His works go beyond simplistic form and message, sparking new conversations of art and the language it inspires.
While much of his work is seemingly suggestive and plays off of the female form, his crisp line, depth of color, and extreme bodily fragmentation allows the viewer to re-examine the perceived overt eroticism. Wesselmann playfully adapted the history of art as well as images from advertising and everyday life in his paintings, multi-paneled shaped canvases, and laser-cut steel drawings.
The Life of Tom Wesselmann
Tom Wesselmann was born in 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He first studied psychology at the University of Cincinnati and relocated to New York City to study art at the Cooper Union. He counted Willem de Kooning, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse among his greatest inspirations.
Wesselmann’s earliest works were small collages and assemblages. He first utilizing discarded paper and old advertisements, then began to integrate found objects like utensils or even old television sets. As Wesselmann progressed in his works, he no longer constrained himself to the rectangular format canvas. He started to shape and structure his canvases to correlate with his compositions. Popular works include the Great American Nude series and Smoker series.
The artist worked in New York City for over four decades and lived there with his wife and children until his death on December 17, 2004. He remains an influential figure in American art.
Wesselmann’s Popular Series – Great American Nude & Smoker Series
Wesselmann’s first large-scale series was the Great American Nude. He began this in 1961. Featuring sexualized and depersonalized female figures set in commonplace surroundings, this series earned him the attention of the art world. Wesselmann added his own treatment to the female form based on the classical nudes of Titian and the modern odalisques of Henri Matisse and Édouard Manet. Many of these works are based on his wife and his sexual rediscovery after their marriage. The works include free-floating, red-lacquered lips that balance a burning cigarette. The influence of advertising spreads is apparent in this series with several branded items seen throughout.
Still Life #60 (1972) featured five large-scale, shaped canvases made to resemble small trinkets that might be found in the medicine cabinet or junk drawer. These bring attention to the imagery inherent in everyday life.
Wesselmann’s later Smoker series showcased many of the same techniques of Great American Nude. This series features large-scale canvases shaped like brightly-colored mouths that became cartoonish symbols of eroticism. It underlines the seductive nature of smoking and focuses on the sensual nature of the human mouth.
In his final years, the artist created his Sunset Nudes series. This was a return to the subject matter that first gained him initial acclaim.
While much of Wesselmann’s famous works are entertaining and humorous, they have also showcased a dynamic and innovative approach that communicates more than overt eroticism.
Collections & Exhibitions
The artist’s works can be found in the collections of the Honolulu Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Albright-Know Art Gallery, Buffalo, and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Wesselmann exhibited widely during his lifetime, most notably at the MoMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Recent exhibitions of Tom Wesselmann include:
- 2019 Almine Rech Gallery, London
- 2018 Gagosian, New York, Tom Wesselmann, Standing Still Lifes,
- 2017 Vedovi Gallery, Brussels, Tom Wesselmann – Telling It Like It Is
- 2016 David Zwirner Gallery, London, Tom Wesselmann Collages 1959-1964
- 2015 Galerie Gmurzynska, St. Moritz, A Line to Greatness
- 2014 Denver Art Museum, Beyond Pop Art; A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective
- 2013 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Beyond Pop Art; A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective
- 2012 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Beyond Pop Art; A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective
- David Janis Gallery, New York, Painted Black
- 2011 The Kreeger Museum, Washington, DC, Tom Wesselmann Draws (catalog)
Value at Auction
The value of Wesselmann’s works have been generally optimistic. Sotheby’s Mei Moses shared the average compound annual return for the artist being 9.4%, with 77.9% of works increasing in value.
His work, Smoker #5 (Mouth #19) from 1969 sold for 3,871,250 GBP at Sotheby’s. This is a prime example of the artist’s iconic series of shaped canvases focusing on the enlarged mouth of a female enjoying a cigarette.
Great American Nude #21 was estimated at 3,000,000 USD – 4,000,000 USD and sold at auction for 3,330,500 USD. This work was a part of the series that epitomized the American Pop avant-garde.
Bedroom Face with Lichtenstein was done in 1994 and sold at Bonhams auction house for 12,500 USD.
Another from the infamous Great American Nude series, Great American Nude #72 was estimated at 30,000 USD – 50,000 USD.
Add the Works of Tom Wesselmann to Your Own Collection
Keep an eye out on live auctions in Dania Beach if you would like to add a work from the leading figure of the American Pop Art movement into your personal collection. Auction houses offer opportunities to participate via phone or online from around the globe.