Wayne Thiebaud's Valley River is an extraordinarily vibrant painting and a superb example of a work that is the culmination of a life-long love of painting.
Featuring the flat, fertile farmland of the Sacramento river valley as it flows westward towards the San Francisco bay, Valley River is a world away from the early landscapes the artist first produced in the 1950s and 1960s. These often featured an assortment of geological features, presented in flattened abstract forms. By the time Thiebaud returned to the genre in the mid-1990s he had moved in a new and exhilarating direction. This shift is exemplified by the present work with its intense colors and golden hues, along with a composition that is larger in scale and loudly proclaims its different patterns.
Thiebaud's attachment to the land can be traced back to his childhood where he spent his summers on his grandfather's ranch in California helping to work the land and harvest crops. This first hand experience of farming was to be a major influence on his later work. "These paintings have something to do with the love of that and in some ways the idea of replicating the experience" (W.Thiebaud as quoted in S. Dalkey, "Wayne Thiebaud's Rural Landscapes", Wayne Thiebaud, Rural Landscapes, exh. cat., San Francisco, Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, 1977).
Valley River follows in a long tradition of landscape painting by many of the artists who Thiebaud has been quick to acknowledge as having influenced his career. The internal tensions in his landscapes have been likened to Cezanne's treatment of the countryside, through his shifting planes of light and color. The sheer joy of applying paint to canvas has been linked to Van Gogh's depictions of southern France and Thiebaud's palette has drawn comparisons to the Fauves' riotous use of color.
Long regarded as a major contributor to the tradition of American realism, Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of store fronts and colorful displays of confectionary goods. But his landscapes are an integral and important part of his oeuvre; they are a testament to the versatile talents of the artist today.
His popular snapshots of American consumerism meant he has become widely associated with pop art movement but his work does not merely celebrate the consumerism of American society, it also captures the texture, light and perspective of brash Americana, whilst at the same time engaging the viewer in a symphony of color and vibrant brushwork.
Thiebaud not only paints what he sees, but what his subjects project. This true sense of the California countryside comes through in Valley River, with the richness of its soil matched only by the richness of the artist's palette.