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

Delta Water

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Delta Water
signed and dated 'Thiebaud 2003' (left edge); signed again and dated again 'Thiebaud 2003' (on the reverse); titled "DELTA WATER" (on the overlap)
acrylic on canvas
48 x 72 in. (121.9 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 2003.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Lot Essay

"Sacramento is certainly the headquarters and where I've done most of [my] work....I've painted a lot in the valley, on the river....I've painted a lot of the ridges around Coloma and Napa and places here, a lot of little areas... where these sorts of little bumps of earth grow up and people build little private worlds on top of them, things of that kind. I'm working on... the river and the way in which agricultural patterns relate to the river. A lot of that does have to do with aerial perspective. The big trick is to try to avoid... the pictorial aspect of the river. It's such a seductive enterprise to paint a river, the reflections, the prettiness of it, and so on" (Wayne Thiebaud, quoted in S. McGough, Thiebaud Selects Thiebaud: A Forty-Year Survey from Private Collections, exh. cat., Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, 1996, p. 12).

The river delta that meanders through the Californian countryside in Wayne Thiebaud's Delta Water is a clear manifestation of the artist's accomplished use of color. Bright with a fauve-like intensity, the heady concoction of vibrant pigment and rich impasto creates a magical atmosphere of ethereal beauty, capturing the peaceful passage of the river as it wanders to its ultimate destination. Thiebaud is a master landscape painter, having spent happy childhood years on his grandfather's farm, and this understanding of the elemental nature of the landscape combines with a vibrancy of the candy colors that Thiebaud uses in Delta Water and results in an almost synesthetic effect of being able to taste the colors that Thiebaud lays down on the canvas.

Thiebaud's ability to identify the rich tapestry of individual elements that make up the landscape and to indulge each one with the individual attention they each deserve, while at the same time retaining an overall compositional unity, is one of the qualities that makes this portrait of the Californian countryside so engaging. Using only his brush and his palette of bright, almost confectionary-shop colors, Thiebaud produces a patchwork of different hues, tones, and textures that captures the delicious intricacies of the rural landscape. From the flat areas of rich green flood plain to the highly textured peaks of liquid paint that dart across the surface of the golden river, Thiebaud imbues Delta Water with a richness of texture that more than matches the richness of the physical landscape itself.

Thiebaud understood well the subtleties of the countryside landscape. Growing up helping to work the land and harvest crops, he was well-versed in the intricacies of the changing seasons and the natural rhythms of the land. This first-hand experience would prove invaluable in his later work, and this work from his Riverscapes series is a testament to these memories of childhood that were still fresh in his mind: "These paintings have something to do with the love of that and in some ways with the idea of replicating the experience" (W. Thiebaud, quoted in S. Dalkey, "Wayne Thiebaud's Rural Landscapes," Wayne Thiebaud, Rural Landscapes, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1977 n.p.).

The flat, fertile farmland depicted in Delta Water is a return to the same aesthetic that is featured in some of Thiebaud's earliest landscapes. These often featured an assortment of geological features presented in flattened and almost abstract forms. By the time the artist returned to the genre in the mid-1990s, he had moved in a new and exhilarating direction. By introducing a vibrant and more striking palette, Thiebaud highlights the abstract nature of the different elements that make up the surface of the work. This, combined with the striking impasto, emphasizes the painterly qualities for which Thiebaud is so justly renowned. These forms were the result of constant adjustment and refinement, as recalled by the artist's son who vividly remembers his father's artistic process: "Each [refinement] was guiding the artist along a path of idiosyncrasy leading to the power of their individuality. They were ever changing in a chameleon-like frenzy. I watched as horizons asserted themselves one week only to disappear the next, as geometry was replaced with lyricism only to go back on itself later and as tension was swept away at one stage and reintroduced at the next and so on" (P. L. Thiebaud, Wayne Thiebaud Riverscapes 2002, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2002, n.p.).

Long regarded as a major contributor to the tradition of American realism, Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of storefronts and colorful displays of confectionary goods. Since the 1950s, Thiebaud has been fascinated by the pictorial possibilities of still life subjects drawn from everyday American life. There is a democratic aura to these objects of middle-class consumption, both in their accessible nature and in the way they stand in rows in an individualized, yet egalitarian, manner. Thiebaud presaged Pop art's obsession with consumer products and Minimalism's fixation on modular repetition-indeed at his enormously successful debut at the Allan Stone Gallery in 1962, Andy Warhol was one of his many admirers. Yet Thiebaud did not share Pop's challenges to traditional mediums of art making and instead maintained an independent course in his devotion to the aesthetic delights of oil paint. Thiebaud admired an eclectic gamut of painters, from Chardin to Mondrian, and observed: "Each distinctive painter has his own brush dance" (W. Thiebaud, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, p. 48). Friends with Willem de Kooning since the 1950s, Thiebaud admired his supple handling of paint and inventive coloration. De Kooning reminded him of the primacy of his chosen material stating: "Painting was a lot more important than art" (Ibid., p.48). Thiebaud's landscapes are an integral and important part of his oeuvre; they are a testament to the artist's versatile talents. Through both his inventive manipulation of color and ingenious handling of paint, Thiebaud's composition Delta Water rivals the best of abstract art. Yet he held fast to his dedication to exploring formal innovations throaugh realistic subjects, declaring in 1968: "I think we have barely touched upon the real capacity of what realistic painting can do" (Ibid., p. 11).

Property from an Important American Collection
This distinguished collection of paintings, works on paper, and sculpture has been amassed by one of the most respected authorities on American twentieth century art. The diverse group includes important works by the artists Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud, some of Jackson Pollock's most exciting early paintings, and an iconic Joseph Cornell Aviary Box. These works chart the march of artistic innovation from the European-inspired modernism of Arshile Gorky through to the radical innovation of artists on the American East and West coasts that established the United States as a powerhouse of post-war art. As a counterpoint to the hegemony of the New York School, the works being offered from this collection reinforce the important role artists from the West Coast were playing in placing American art on the world stage. The distinctive approach to abstraction, painterly texture, and the purity of the sculptural form contained within these works demonstrates the part these artists played in helping both to forge a new direction for art after the upheaval of the Second World War and to establish the region as one of the most important and exciting areas for the development of both artists and collectors alike.
Although often thought of as the quintessential representative of the New York School, Jackson Pollock spent time in California attending art school before moving to the East Coast. In the autumn of 1930 he visited Pomona College in California where he was transfixed by the murals of the Mexican social realist painter José Clemente Orozco. This visit had a profound effect on the direction of Pollock's career as he began to embrace Orozco's sense of scale and all-over composition. Included in this collection are three early works by Pollock, painted soon after he moved to New York, that demonstrate his new compositional style and provide a captivating window into the artist's psyche as he sought to define himself and his art. In them we see the roots and influences which would ultimately lead him just a few years later to a radically new style and technique that would catapult him to international superstardom as the embodiment of a new American modernism, permanently altering the landscape of the art world.

Richard Diebenkorn was one of the most significant artists to emerge from the West Coast during the post-war period, and his magnificent abstraction The Green Huntsman, 1952, is an important example of his early work, which remained in his private collection until after his death. The wide bands of translucent color that sweep across the surface of this atmospheric painting are the artist's response to the majestic landscape of New Mexico. Painted towards the end of his Albuquerque period, its energetic brushstrokes capture the essence of the region's distinctive geography in painterly form. Executed during one of Diebenkorn's most inspired periods when he was examining the relationship between abstraction and figuration, the evidence of the artist's innovative ideas can be seen in the way broad brushstrokes and splashes of color are overlaid, suggesting an investigation of the varying aesthetic effects that would be of interest to the artist throughout his career. Although recognized by many primarily as a landscape painter, Diebenkorn was also skilled at capturing the essence of the female form, several examples of which are included in this collection. Like his landscapes, these strong, expressive, and undeniably sensual works continue the frisson of tension and dynamism in Diebenkorn's oeuvre that speaks to their importance to the rest of his artistic output during this dynamic period.

While Richard Diebenkorn captured the essence of the vast Western landscape, Wayne Thiebaud encapsulated the Californian urban landscape and the suburban life experienced by many of its inhabitants. His exquisitely rendered images of confectionary and baked goods, beach scenes, and other images garnered from the ephemera of life on the West Coast--all captured with the artist's meticulously detailed execution--form the core of this collection. Work from all of the important periods of the artist's career are represented here, from Slice of Pie, 1961 (one of the artist's earliest renditions of his iconic subject matter), through to his magnificent Sixteen Pies, 1965 and his lovingly rendered Delta Water, 2003 a magnificent rendition of his beloved Sacramento River valley. The careful attention with which Thiebaud imbues every one of his brushstrokes and sweeps of pastel is clearly visible in the carefully constructed surface of these works, and under close scrutiny these surfaces begin to transform into a merry-go-round of impasto that recalls nostalgic memories of youth.

This unique group of works stands as a testament to the vision and creativity of the artists contained within it. Although New York had staked its claim as the center of the post-war art world, the artists of the West Coast made significant contributions to the emerging dominance of American art throughout the world. Firmly rooted in their environment, these artists responded to the artistic challenges and debates of the age with their own distinct style inspired by the light and space of the Californian landscape and the lifestyle that spawned it. Brought together under the eye of a distinguished connoisseur, these works seek to remind us that the artists of the West Coast, along with others influenced by them, played a pivotal role in the development of American post-war art, and created some extraordinarily beautiful works in the process.

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