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Wayne Thiebaud (B. 1920)
Wayne Thiebaud (B. 1920)

Delicatessen Counter (Bologna and Cheese)

Wayne Thiebaud (B. 1920)
Delicatessen Counter (Bologna and Cheese)
signed and dated 'Thiebaud 1961' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'Thiebaud Bologna and Cheese 1961' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 x 36 in. (71.2 x 91.5 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Oakland Tribune, Sunday, July 15, 1962, p. EL5 (illustrated).
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Works, April-May 1962, no. 9.
The Minneapolis Institute of Art, The 50th Anniversary Exhibition, November 1965-January 1966.
New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Fort Worth, The Museum of Modern Art; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, June-September 2001.

Lot Essay

Wayne Thiebaud's earliest mature still life paintings, which date from 1961, were presented to critical acclaim at the Allan Stone Gallery in the spring of 1962. Delicatessen Counter (Bologna and Cheese) was included in this landmark exhibition, along with other exquisite celebrations of commonplace American food that would become one of the artist's signature motifs. Thiebaud's work relates to an honest appreciation for the American experience, and individual and collective memories. Thiebaud states: "Most of the objects are fragments of actual experience. For instance, I would really think of the bakery counter, of the way the counter was lit, where the pies were placed, but I wanted just a piece of the experience. From when I worked in restaurants, I can remember seeing rows of pies, or a tin of pie with one piece out of it and one pie sitting beside it. Those little vedute in fragmented circumstances were always poetic to me" (quoted in S. A. Nash, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective).
The composition of Delicatessen Counter (Bologna and Cheese) presents a close-up view of the deli counter, and tight groupings of blocks, wheels and wedges of meats and cheeses progress out of the picture plane, implying endless bounty. This composition, however, transforms the still life into a surrogate landscape. The brightly colored stacks and rows of deli foods occupy the upper half of the canvas, like mountains on the horizon, and are balanced by the expansive white front of the display case below. The vertical brushstrokes at either end of the white space reinforce the structure of the case of the deli counter. Thiebaud's manipulation of the thickly loaded brush serves to define mass and volume and space.

In a conversation with Carol Mancusi-Ungaro of the Whitney Museum about Delicatessen Counter (Bologna and Cheese) during the opening of the Whitney's 2001 retrospective, Thiebaud commented upon the formal structure of the painting, particularly the cubist planes in the upper half. Thiebaud thought that the immediacy of the frontal planes were important. Although he questioned the size of the large cheese in the composition, Thiebaud noted that it was counterbalanced by the triangular piece in front, which he called "the flying buttress."
Thiebaud employs the humble bologna and cheese as devices with which he explores the still life and landscape tradition. The rich, smooth dragging of paint across the canvas and around the shapes proclaims both the lusciousness of oil paint and Thiebaud's reverence for the process.

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