Just In: Wayne Thiebaud’s Four Cakes
“If the world were a perfect place, the Wayne Thiebaud retrospective that has just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art would be nailed to the walls for good and we would be free to stop by whenever we needed to remind ourselves what happiness feels like.”
-Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, 2001
Having grown up mostly in Long Beach, Wayne Thiebaud was among the handful of West Coast artists that rose to prominence within the New York-dominated Pop art movement. Like many of his Pop contemporaries, Thiebaud initially started his career in animation and quickly transitioned to commercial illustration for the film and retail industries. After World War II, however, and with the encouragement of sculptor Robert Mallary, Thiebaud turned more seriously to fine art and earned his BA and MA in art history from California State University, Sacramento.
Like fellow Bay Area painter Raimonds Staprans, also featured in our upcoming 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction, Thiebaud extracted radical treatments of color and light from the annals of art history, borrowing techniques from Matisse and Josef Albers in particular. His deep understanding and meticulous application of their color studies have led some to argue that the artist’s practice “[belonged] more to a classical tradition of painting than to the Pop revolution” in which he had become a household name. Buttressed by formal tenacity, Thiebaud’s sentimentality stands out against the ironic Pop landscape of his moment, as well. Described as “wonderfully ungimmicky,” he perfected a quaint melancholy within his images, interwoven with nostalgia and a sympathetic reading of the American ethos.
Where many Pop artists attached psychological weight to the proliferation of the repeated image, Thiebaud found formal value in redundancy. With this in mind he took to creating different renderings of similar subjects, such as rows of cakes and lipsticks, and to translating the same still lifes into drawing, painting, and printmaking. Across Thiebaud’s body of work “there is no hierarchy” of mediums, only iterations of what he has referred to as his “critical interrogation.” The artist created his first prints in 1950 and has continued working in the medium throughout his career, praising the etched line for “its fidelity, the richness of it, the density.”
Four Cakes (from Recent Etchings I) (1979), which we are proud to present in our upcoming 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction, not only depicts Thiebaud’s most recognizable iconography, but demonstrates his commitment to rigorous experimentation. This work stands as a quintessential model of Thiebaud’s most critical artistic inquiries, both in its content and its form.
Brown, Kathan. “Wayne Thiebaud.” Crown Point Press, crownpoint.com/artist/wayne-thiebaud/#biography.
Ingram, Lyndsey. Wayne Thiebaud: Prints and Works on Paper. Sims Reed Gallery, 2015.
Kimmelman, Michael. “Wistful Joy in Soda-Fountain Dreams.” The New York Times, 29 June 2001.
McGuigan, Cathleen. Wayne Thiebaud Is Not a Pop Artist. Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Feb. 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/wayne-thiebaud-is-not-a-pop-artist-57060/.
Four Cakes (from Recent Etchings I)
Drypoint and aquatint on Somerset paper
Color trial proof aside from the edition of 50
Published by Parasol Press, Ltd., New York; printed by Crown Point Press, San Francisco
Signed and dated in graphite lower right margin beneath image; edition lower left; retains Paul Thiebaud Gallery label frame verso
Image: 16.25″ x 23.75″; Sheet (vis.): 18.25″ x 25.75″
Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000
2020 Modern Art & Design Auction