Tom Wesselmann was born on February 23, 1931, in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended university before serving in the Korean War during the early 1950s. While overseas he began to craft cartoons, and upon his return to the States he earned a psychology degree from the University of Cincinnati. He then enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and later the Cooper Union in New York City, finishing his studies by the late 1950s.

He began to create art that incorporated commonplace real-world items with historical portraiture, often focusing on a reclining female nude. Hence he became known for his "Great American Nude" series, linked to more classical works. Due to his particular aesthetic, he was seen, along with figures like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as one of the purveyors of Pop Art, though Wesselmann stated that he didn't care for the term. Later in the decade his pieces were exhibited in Europe and Brazil.

Having become an established international artist who was also known for his printmaking, Wesselmann later played with ideas around sculpture and metalwork. In the new millennium, he returned to the nude figure, this time in a more abstract sense though continuing his use of an electric palette.

Wesselmann died on December 17, 2004, in New York.