Meet the World’s Most Famous Unknown Artist

Though regarded by many as one of the great American pop artists, the late Tom Wesselmann never received the glory of his compatriots. Unlike the usual suspects such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, and Claes Oldenberg, Wesselmann’s work was never — until now — the subject of a major retrospective.

Wesselmann began his career making collages, using everyday objects and brand-name products such as Coca Cola and Brillo Pads for their aesthetic appeal, rather than as the typical pop-art critique of American consumerist society, then moved on to his series of Great American Nudes in which, inspired by the odalisques of Matisse, Goya, and Manet, he created his own brand of post-World War II nudes surrounded by stars, American flags, references to classic works of art, and images of American Presidents. He progressed to the large-scale works of his Smokers series, and then conceived what he called “steel drawings” — laser-cut steel that appeared to be drawings on a wall.

At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through October 7, Tom Wesselmann: Beyond Pop Art explores the career of the man who has been called “the world’s most famous unknown artist.” Get to know his work in our slideshow preview.

Tom Wesselmann, Great American Nude No. 52. Photo: Jeffrey Sturges. Courtesy of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.