Monday, December 27, 2021

An appreciation of Wayne Thiebaud (1920 - 2021)

I have long admired and loved Wayne Thiebaud's paintings, prints and drawings. So it was especially sad to wake this morning to the news that he had died, age 101, on Christmas Day, at his home in Sacramento. 

I've written about him before in 
For me this is a bit of a click and salivate post! In all honesty written entirely for me - for looking at from time to time - rather than sharing with any of you - but you can look too! ;)
This post is going to be an appreciation of the man and his artwork - with links to where online you can see and hear him and view his art. (Note: I'll probably add in more links to his artwork as I find them)

Installation view of Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective
(Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, June 28–September 23, 2001).
Photography by Jerry L. Thompson

But first click the arrow to the right of the pic in this link to see a slideshow of his work created by his gallery.

About Wayne Thiebaud

For me he's an artist who is a luscious realist of the everyday - until you get up close and realise his artwork is also abstracted from reality and the artist relishes the media he used. 

His art started from observation and might more accurately termed be realist when it was a drawing. However artwork developed from his memories and those drawings could become a very different sort of realism.

He's perhaps best known as the painter of cakes, pies, ice cream, boiled sweets and Americana - but he was a lot more than that. He was also a very accomplished figurative and portrait painter. 
By the early 1960s, Thiebaud had begun painting the works for which he is best known, depicting quintessentially American, everyday objects in bright colors—such as cakes and pies, hot dogs and hamburgers, gumballs and lollipops, and jackpot machines. Rather than painting from life, Thiebaud represented these objects from memory, drawing from nostalgic recollections of bakeries and diners from his youth and contemporary commercial imagery. Working with thickly applied paint, Thiebaud often spotlights his objects against pale backgrounds with the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements. In order to heighten their chromatic intensity, he outlines his forms in radiant colors to achieve a halo-like effect. In addition to his still lifes, Thiebaud also painted portraits in the same style, depicting solemn figures set against light, empty backgrounds.
His urban and Californian landscapes often took on a new perspective are very striking - and make you look at landscapes with a fresh eye. To me they often seemed to involve tilting or looking up and the optical mixing of colours in both application and positioning on the support which just makes you LOOK at the artwork!

Wayne Thiebaud, San Francisco West Side Ridge,
2001, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Gift of Sam Rose and Julie Walters, 2004.30.5

I also very much like and appreciate the fact that he worked in and explored different art media e.g. pastel over colour lithographs. I first came across him when I got into working with pastels and coloured pencils and art books I bought about dry media highlighted him as an artist who used them - for edible treats! I've always felt he "feels" the media he uses in more than one way.

Characteristics of his artwork have been variously described as:
  • the California-based painter whose lush, dreamy landscapes and luminous pictures of hot dogs, deli counters, marching band majorettes and other charmed relics of midcentury Americana were complex meditations on life and painting
  • luscious, colorful paintings of cakes and San Francisco cityscapes combined sensuousness, nostalgia and a hint of melancholy
  • mastery achieved through excessive pigmentation and amplified color
  • the emperor of ice cream
  • by focusing on sugary foodstuffs, Thiebaud updated the traditional still-life genre for the age of mass production and consumption.
  • associated with the pop art movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, although his early works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists.
  • shunned his categorization as limited to Pop Art, humbly identifying as “just an old fashioned painter.”
  • The dean of California painters, Thiebaud drew upon his earlier career as a Disney animator, sign painter and commercial artist.
  • presents as down-to-earth and self-effacing
Even at 101 years old, he still spent most days in the studio, driven by, as he described with his characteristic humility, ‘this almost neurotic fixation of trying to learn to paint,’
One of the best ways of finding out about him is to 
  • VIEW
    • some of the several videos of him online talking about his artwork - see the listing under Oral History Interviews and Videos below
    • artwork online - see links below
  • LISTEN to podcasts and oral interviews recorded for posterity
His papers were donated to the Smithsonian Museum in 2001 and you can find them at Wayne Thiebaud papers, 1944-2001

Timeline / Biography

Thiebaud was a Californian artist and art teacher. He lived and worked in Sacramento, California and taught for many decades at the University of California at Davis.

1920 - 2021
  • born on November 15, 1920 in Mesa, Arizona.
  • died Sacramento, California on December 25th 2021
1942 to 1945 
  • served in the Air Force, assigned to the Special Services Department as an artist and cartoonist
  • also worked as a cartoonist
  • transferred to the First Air Force Motion Picture Unit, commanded by Ronald Reagan. 
Education / Studies / Teaching: 
  • Thiebaud studied at 
    • 1949 to 1950 San Jose State University - graduated with BA
    • 1952 graduated with MA from California State University in Sacramento
  • 1939 - late 40s: worked a worked as a freelance cartoonist and commercial artist 1940 to 1941
    • 1950 - 1956: worked on commissions for the California State Fair and Exposition, serving as a design and art consultant
    • 1951 - 1959: worked as a lecturer at the Art Department of the Sacramento City College
    • 1959 to 1972: became a professor and taught at the University of California at Davis
    • 1961-1991: Professor Emeritus
    A legendary teacher at nearby University of California at Davis, he retired at age 70 but has continued to give his hugely popular classes as professor emeritus.
    • October 14, 1994: presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton.
    • 2001: Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design
    • 2010: inducted into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum, Sacramento


    • Artwork by Wayne Thiebaud (and Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Robert Dowd) was included in the historically important and ground-breaking "New Painting of Common Objects," curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum [1]. This exhibition is historically considered to be the first museum survey of Pop Art in America.
    • He had his first solo exhibition at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento. 
    • His paintings are in the collections of most major museums in the United States (see below) 

    Where you can see the art of Wayne Thiebaud

    The art of Wayne Thiebaud Online

    These are links to art galleries with artwork by Thiebaud in permanent art collections
    These are links to websites with collections of his art online - in relation to offered for sale and/or auction results
    Wayne Thiebaud is an American painter best known for his still lifes of edible treats and everyday objects in his singular illustrative style. His most popular subject matter includes colorful cakes, slices of pie, candy pieces, such as lollipops, and the winding streets of San Francisco. Similarly to Edward Hopper, Theibaud’s paintings capture a uniquely American sensibility, and critics have compared his penchant for still life to painters like Chardin and Giorgio Morandi.

    Records of Past Exhibitions

    I think it's great that there were so many exhibitions celebrating his centenary in 2020 and he really got to see over time how many people enjoyed his work.

    Acquavella Galleries

    There are great images in these links.
    Mountains are a subject matter of unending challenges.... It’s such a rich subject matter that’s been treated very, very well by so many other wonderful painters—and that’s another, I think, helpful thing to me because I look constantly at the Hudson River School and the primitive paintings, folk paintings, wonderful Japanese and Chinese paintings of mountains—an extraordinary legacy of the beauty of mountains.” -- Wayne Thiebaud


    The Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery (The Archives of American Art’s exhibition space)

    The Archives of American Art celebrates the art and the career of Wayne Thiebaud as we delight in in his engaging and thoughtful work. Thiebaud's strongly illuminated forms possess a dignity that transcends their familiar origins. His memorable paintings of cakes and pies, display counters, shoes and ties, Sacramento Delta marshes and vertiginous San Francisco streets offer an open-minded and egalitarian view of American life.

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Crocker Art Museum

    The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento has been having an exhibition of his artwork every decade since the 1950s. 

    The last one - in 2020 - was to record his centenary and was titled Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings. You can see the artwork in the exhibition two ways

    View of the 3D Tour of Wayne Thiebaud 100 Paintings Prints and Drawings

    Plus you cal also check out these articles and videos:

    • Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings
    , by Scott A. Shields
    Happy Birthday Wayne Thiebaud — Love, Sacramento
    • Curator Talk: Wayne Thiebaud 100, with Scott A. Shields (Video)
    • Nine Ways To Interact With Wayne Thiebaud 100 Outside The Galleries
    • 24 Facts about Wayne Thiebaud's Early Life

    In celebration of Wayne Thiebaud's centennial birthday on 15 November, the artist speaks with Crown Point Press founder Kathan Brown about his technique, career, and collaboration with the San Francisco-based printmaking studio that spans nearly 60 years.
    An interview of Wayne Thiebaud conducted 2001 May 17-18, by Susan Larsen, for the Archives of American Art, in New York.
    Thiebaud discusses his childhood in Long Beach, California and his evolving interest in art; his long time friendship with sculptor Robert Mallary who encouraged Thiebaud to become a painter; his career as an artist and teacher; and the creations of his paintings of food, objects arranged in display counters and paintings of contemporary people in plain abstracted space. Thiebaud recalls Richard Diebenkorn, William Wiley, and Roy de Forest.

    Articles about Waynes Thiebaud

    Thiebaud himself saw the exhibition a few days before the show opened in mid-October. “He came in and blessed it,” says Shields. “We all promised to stay 20 feet away from him.” Despite his fame and the millions of dollars his paintings garner at auction, Thiebaud presents as down-to-earth and self-effacing. In an interview, he says of the over 500 birthday cards and letters forwarded to him that, “We got an awful lot of them. I was so grateful for people doing that. I never feel like I deserve it.”

    And how did he spend his centennial birthday? “I stayed in my pajamas and my bathrobe and didn’t do anything except receive nice phone calls from people.”


    You'll find him called a variety of things by journalists who have varying degrees of knowledge and expertise about the artwork of Wayne Thiebaud i.e. don't take everything as gospel!

    US Press

    Mr. Thiebaud’s rich and luminous depictions of midcentury Americana separated him from the classic Pop Art of the time

    Wayne Thiebaud, an artist whose images of cake, pie and other mass-produced desserts suggested Pop art but whose loose, expressive brush strokes and pointed use of light eventually proved him to be a misunderstood Realist painter, has died

    UK Press

    Online Press

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