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Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Property from an Important American Collection 
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)

Sixteen Pies

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Sixteen Pies
signed 'Thiebaud' (upper right); titled '"Sixteen Pies"' (on the reverse)
pastel on paper
20 5/8 x 30 1/8 in. (52.4 x 76.5 cm.)
Executed in 1965.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Lot Essay

Sixteen Pies is an early work that begins Wayne Thiebaud's mature style of depicting luscious food delicacies like cakes, pies, candies, and ice cream cones. The year in which Thiebaud executed this work, 1961, marks a leap from the artist's early exposure to Abstract Expressionism to a more realistic style. Sixteen Pies perfectly embodies his new concern with figuration combined with a very personal vision taken from the artist's own memory, and the aesthetic pleasure, which bursts through the bright colors and sensuous strokes, is inescapable.

The rows of cherry, chocolate, pumpkin, and lemon pies that are perfectly lined up yield a mesmerizing scene of abundance. Thiebaud meticulously applied pastel and rendered exquisite details to create an image of ample filling in the pies and luscious, creamy toppings. The rows of different pies are orchestrated diagonally across the expanse of the whole surface, their bright yellow, orange, and red colors, set against the sea blue shadow are an enticing reminder of the 1960s American dream of mass consumerism and plenty for all. The tidy arrangement of the pies captures the ideal counter display in neighborhood diners, thereby evoking these American ideals of consumption, prosperity, and optimism, to which Thiebaud himself refers: "The materials are used as a kind of metaphor of plentitude." (W. Thiebaud, "An Interview with Wayne Thiebaud," S. C. McGough,(ed.), Thiebaud Selects Thiebaud: A Forty-Year Survey from Private Collections, exh. cat., Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, 1996, p. 24). The excessive fillings of chocolate, cherry, and pumpkin are eternalized in Thiebaud's picture plane as both an appetite stimulus and an allegorical statement about American culture.

Thiebaud's images of food--pies in particular--have become some of the most enduring images of the post-war period, and examples of such works from this period are included in many prestigious museum collections. These include Pie Counter, 1961 in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and French Pastries, 1963 in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. One iconic piece, the 1961 oil painting Pies, Pies, Pies, is in the collection of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. It is almost identical to this work, exhibiting the same rich, saturated colors and glowing in an almost fluorescent manner. Works such as Sixteen Pies are central to Thiebaud's exquisite observation of what he sees and what he feels: "Drawing, to me, is a kind of inquiring research tool being willing to draw so long and so much and so well and get such a sense of what things were about" (Ibid., p. 8).

Upon scrutinizing the work, the seemingly flat surface starts to transform into a merry-go-round that recalls nostalgic memories of youth. Without any formal training in art school, Thiebaud credited much of his education to early modernist masters such as the post-impressionist Van Gogh and the fauvist Matisse: "I began to heighten the 'edge effect' and also to re-echo the shape around the edges to give more energy to the image. The longer you stare at an object the more pulsation it emits and the color has to have what Matisse referred to as 'expanding propensities'" (W. Thiebaud, "Wayne Thiebaud: An Interview," J. Coplans, (ed.), Wayne Thiebaud, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, 1968, p. 32). He started his early professional experiences drawing cartoons for Walt Disney Studios earning fourteen dollars a week. He spent over ten years working as a cartoonist and commercial advertising designer between New York and California. During the 1950s, Thiebaud befriended a group of Abstract Expressionism visionaries, among them Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Franz Klein, and Barnett Newman. The powerful visual language of Abstract Expressionism, especially the emotionally charged color field paintings, deeply influenced Thiebaud in his early stages. One prominent example is, again, his unique, brightly colored shadows of forms in Sixteen Pies.

The period in which Thiebaud executed Sixteen Pies was one of the most important of his career. In 1962, a cherished friendship began between Thiebaud and his art dealer, Allan Stone. In the spring, Thiebaud had his first solo show in New York at the Allan Stone Gallery, which stirred tremendous attention in the New York art world, and the show was attended by Andy Warhol, Barnett Newman, and Elaine de Kooning, among others. Thiebaud soon achieved national recognition as well as commercial success. In the same year, his work was included in the pivotal Pop Art group exhibition curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum along with fellow Pop artists Edward Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. As a result of his superb depiction of mass-produced objects during the 1960s, art critics and art historians constantly coupled Thiebaud's works with the concurrent Pop Art movement. However, Thiebaud's concentration on commonplace objects dates before the flourishing of this art movement, and the artist himself resisted such categorization: "I have always exhibited in Pop Art shows, but I don't see myself as being in any way central to that category" (Ibid., p. 28).

Thiebaud's art dives deeper than the concepts of mass cultural symbols and interchangeability advocated by Pop artists. He juxtaposes the familiarity and heterogeneity of common objects. In Sixteen Pies, every pie on a plate shares similar features, but they all look different from each other. As the artist elucidates: "It interests me because of the consciousness of simultaneity--of how much alike we are, how close we are to one another and how rare it is to come across distinctions of any sort. It is one of the ways I think about art. It has the capacity to build alternatives in a peculiar way--it is full of little discriminations and little insights which are terribly important and only a very few individuals ever think about them" (Ibid., p. 26). The obsessive repetition of everyday objects extends beyond the mere reflection of a modern society and centers its questions upon the ambivalence of closeness and distance inherent in the human condition.

Sixteen Pies captures the complexity that combines Thiebaud's traditional approach and contemporary vision. It demonstrates the painter's incorporation of the history of art from Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin's still-lifes to Hopper's landscape and de Kooning's abstraction to Warhol's mechanical reproduction. As the artist acknowledges: "To feel that you've been privileged to be part of that is terrific" (Op. cit., 15).

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