Wayne Thiebaud Lot 53B
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
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Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)

Booth Girl

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Booth Girl
signed and dated 'Thiebaud 1964' (lower right)
oil on canvas
72 x 48 in. (182.8 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Allan Stone Gallery, New York, acquired from the artist
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Kogod, Bethesda
Sam II Fine Arts, LLC, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
S. Tillim, "In the Galleries: Wayne Thiebaud," Arts Magazine, v. 38, no. 8/9, May-June 1964, p. 37 (illustrated).
S. Beh and S. Salyer, eds., Women & Film, v. 1, no. 3/4, 1973, cover (illustrated).
London, Hayward Gallery, Pop Art Redefined, July-August 1969, fig. 36, no. 142 (illustrated).
Phoenix Art Museum; Oakland Museum; Los Angeles, University of Southern California Art Galleries and Des Moines Art Center, Wayne Thiebaud: Survey 1947-1976, September 1976-May 1977, no. 42 (illustrated).
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud at Allan Stone Gallery: Celebrating 33 Years Together, May-June 1994, p. 11 (illustrated in color).
Sale room notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Wayne Thiebaud has for over fifty years remained one of America’s most beloved contemporary painters. Although his visual voice is clearly and unmistakably his own, his paintings nevertheless manage to elicit some of the great painters of the art historical canon of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, from Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin to Giorgio Morandi and Edward Hopper, to name a few.

Thiebaud’s Booth Girl exudes a simplicity and integrity common to the figurative works he turned increasingly toward beginning in 1963. He started painting figures at least as early as 1959 but it didn’t become an intense focus of his work until the mid-1960’s just as the Pop Art movement was in full swing. Although Thiebaud does not see himself as a Pop artist, it is difficult not to situate his work within a West Coast version of Pop: the deliciously voluptuous colors, the clear legibility of the commonplace subjects he paints, the way they are spotlit and reflect aspects of everyday life, particularly simple pleasures like cake and ice-cream cones. Here we are reminded of yet another simple pleasure—going out to the movies.

Booth Girl measures six feet tall and is likely based on a memory from his days as a youth when he worked as a theater usher in Long Beach, California. Thiebaud grew up in Southern California during the golden age of Hollywood. He apprenticed briefly at Disney Studios and worked as a cartoonist and designer. There is a transcendent ‘American-ness’ that comes forward in this work. One senses a nostalgic glimpse of a more innocent, happier time, a reminder of those “good old days” before the internet streaming era, when going out and buying your ticket to the movies held a festive thrill.

“Thiebaud depicts subjects that reflect a nostalgia and reverence for American culture…,” says John Wilmerding, “he takes a formal approach to issues of color, light, composition and space, stating that his only intention when he paints is to ‘get the painting to a point of resolution.’ This formality lends itself to all of his many subjects and is one of the reasons why the masterful quality of his paintings has remained consistent over sixty years” (J. Wilmerding, Wayne Thiebaud a Retrospective, exh. cat., Aquavella Galleries, New York, 2012, p. 15).

The figurative painter Fairfield Porter remarked that what counts in abstract paintings is the subject matter, while in realism a picture’s abstract, formal qualities often deepen our interest beyond what the obvious subject matter seems to intend. On a purely formal, visual level, Booth Girl includes just three components: the girl, the booth and the empty space they occupy. Geometrical relationships are established between these three parts and distinct picture planes define the space. There is a rigidly controlled austerity to the composition and at the same time, the rich white ground on which he paints the lush and saturated blue color of the booth might be considered the real subject of this otherwise minimalist, pristine painting. “In Thiebaud’s figure paintings, we find that they share the syntax of contemporary abstraction in terms of form as well as content”(P. Karmel, ibid., p.40). But because he paints a human figure, a psychological dimension opens onto a vast territory of interpretive possibility.

Thiebaud’s human figures are known to be rigidly posed, stoic and indifferent to the viewer’s gaze even though their frontal directness could seem confrontational or inviting. But the figure’s indifference and vacant stare can be read in multiple ways­­—it could reflect the mundane aspect of everyday life, be read as a sign of isolation or loneliness or by contrast, perhaps convey a transcendent state of quiet serenity.

One might be inclined to liken these qualities to the effect of Hopper’s figurative works; however, Hopper’s figures are in a mode of absorption, as Michael Fried would say; in other words, unaware of the world outside the picture plane’s reality. In Thiebaud’s Booth Girl the blunt frontality of the figure looking straight out perhaps destabilizes viewers because of the girl’s enigmatic attitude toward the viewers’ presence. One critic remarked that Thiebaud’s paintings come at the viewer fast, but they are slow to reveal themselves.
Also, Hopper’s figures are placed in a setting or environment whereas Thiebaud sets his figures into a painted empty space. There’s an absence of context since the background is all white; moreover, the figure doesn’t seem to belong to our reality either. The uniformed ticket taker’s stare is as blank as the white background, which in turn, is as white as her long-sleeved top. The background serves to elevate the scene into an eternal now, such that a timeless, otherworldly quality infuses the work with a floating, expansive, Californian ‘lightness of being.’

Thiebaud seems to humanize the objects he paints and objectify the humans he paints. “It is not easy for human beings to assume the rigid frontality and stasis in a Thiebaud” (P. Karmel, ibid., p.43).Although his figurative paintings can be rightly viewed as abstractions, how do we account for the way in which Thiebaud infuses his figures with a physical and psychological presence? The booth seems to function as a barrier keeping the girl at an inaccessible distance from the viewer psychologically. She seems even further removed from us by the way Thiebaud seems to have relegated her to a floating, other-wordly realm. Although she may appear as an immortalized shell, there is a remote isolation that is intimately felt and a compelling need to ponder what she thinks of us.


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