Wesselmann's relationship with the female nude began at the beginning of his career. Wesselmann was a budding artist during the mid-twentieth century and many of his most admired peers were at the pinnacle of their careers, working within Abstract Expressionism to cement themselves as arguably the most important American painters of their time. Wesselmann admired de Kooning's abstractions but chose to work with the images of popular culture and everyday life. In the early 1960s, images of the female nude were not common in the media and Wesselmann's representation of the female nude in various positions that were not as traditional to formal nude painting seemed aggressive at the time. Wesselmann played with the female nude and his representation of her for the formative years of his early career in the series of about 100 Great American Nudes.
Great American Nude #2 (see fig.) is an early example of a large scale female nude portrait. This mixed media collage exhibits Wesselmann's stuggle with whether or not to make his women more abstract or more realistic. Over the years he would dabble with the idea of both. The image in Great American Nude #2 is strikingly intimate as the woman is in a very relaxed position, on her side with her legs spread. The curves of her body maintain the desire towards abstraction and yet the detailed collaged background brings the viewer back into reality. It is clear that this work is very calculated and precise. Wesselmann would soon move away from this decisiveness and become increasingly instinctive and spontaneous with his works, but the foundation built from these early paintings underlies his entire oeuvre.
The series of Sunset Nudes and Blue Nudes Wesselmann painted at the turn of the 21st century are spectacular and nostalgic, offering strikingly rich and purely painted colors and flowing female forms lounging across large canvases. Blue Nude, One Flower is an homage to Wesselmann's early career. Painted near the end of Wesselmann's life, this painting, and the larger paintings executed within these years, would prove to be testaments to the most recognized and adored aspects of his oeuvre. Most prominently, the female nude has returned in full force, yet this time she is much softer and abstracted, but always with the standard bodacious curves, pink lips and nipples, with beautifully flowing hair. Her backdrops are brightly colored and sunny beach scenes, and in the Sunset Nude series, with dazzling sunsets illuminating the canvas with purples, reds, yellows and oranges. The relation of the body to the background is reminiscent of Wesselmann's early collages. She is lying flat on the canvas, on top of the scene behind her, as if collaged on the surface. The elements in the background are also very flat and do not offer much depth, they too are cut-outs and appear to be elements of collage painted on the surface of the canvas.
Wesselmann has chosen to reevaluate his own career, and the larger canon of art history, by selecting to return to the Great American Nude series again at the end of his career. Other artists with long and successful careers also came full circle and returned to previous subjects and modified the subject matter by stripping it down to its most basic elements. De Kooning's Ribbon paintings and Matisse's Blue Nudes are some of the examples of other artists who looked back on their careers and decided to revisit earlier subjects with their new perspective and comment on their own work in a new, refreshing way. More than forty years after Wesselmann began to paint female nudes, his women are more confident, relaxed and softer versions of their predecessors. Just as Wesselmann's relationship to his painting and subject matter developed and matured over the years, so did his relationship with the women in his life. These paintings, including Blue Nude, One Flower portray the good life well lived: beautiful sexy women, great beaches and warm sunsets.