Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
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Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)

Drawing for Great American Nude #56

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
Drawing for Great American Nude #56
signed and dated 'Wesselmann 1964' (lower left)
charcoal on paper
36 x 48in. (91.4 x 122cm.)
Executed in 1964
Green Gallery, New York.
John and Kimiko Powers, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


Executed in 1964, Drawing for Great American Nude #56 shows a woman lying back. This work implies so much that is sexual. The image shows a woman whose face has been reduced to lush lips, as though cut out from some glamour magazine. Indeed, in Drawing for Great American Nude #56 only the woman's lips, breasts and sexual organs are discernable within her body. All the other features that might have made her an individual have disappeared, making her instead a strange confection, a concentratedly erotic form. And one that is draped before fragmentary symbols that imply that she is exposing herself before that most American of backdrops for a 'Great American Nude', the Stars and Stripes. Wesselmann appears to have distilled the essence of so much advertising, so many modern publications, and removed all sense of pretence, illustrating the raw and sexual heart that beats behind so much of popular culture.

While Wesselmann has often been categorised under the Pop banner, his sources, interests and collage techniques were in fact very different from many of the artists of that movement. This is most clear in the fact that he often stated that the main driving force behind the original nudes was in fact autobiographical:

'I feel naive and I imagine myself lying in bed with my lover, my wife, and I look up and see this beautiful breast, beautiful, hanging there and I become aware of other things around it, and that's all there is to it -- just a visual moment, an intense focus' (Wesselmann, quoted in I. Sandler, 'Interview with Tom Wesselmann', 1984, reproduced at Smithsonian Archives of American Art Online).

It is therefore the artist's own experience, the almost Surreal revelation of a female body by his side in bed, as well as his awareness of the flotsam and jetsam of American life, that lie behind Drawing for Great American Nude #56.