Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)

French Fries

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
French Fries
signed and dated 'Thiebaud 1961' (lower left); signed again and titled '"French Fries" Thiebaud' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
20 1/8 x 24 1/8 in. (51.1 x 61.2 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Private collection, acquired directly from the artist
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 27 February 1985, lot 140
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
M. Moorman, "New York Reviews: Wayne Thiebaud," ARTnews, March 1986.
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud: 25th Anniversary at the Allan Stone Gallery, March-April 1986.
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud Since 1962: A Survey, April-May 2005.

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

Completed the year before his acclaimed debut show at New York’s Allan Stone Gallery in 1962, French Fries was created at a seminal moment in Wayne Thiebaud’s career. As the title indicates, the apparent subject matter of the work is the carton of fries that appears to rest on a brightly lit diner counter. Yet this everyday food item and classic image of American life is transfigured by the painting’s striking compositional layout and bravura handling of paint into an expressionistic study of light, color, and line.

A deep void of black pigment fills two-thirds of the picture plane and is framed by two differently toned blue lines, while the “diner counter” is composed of two broad planes of varied yellow hue. The paint is vigorously handled, with thick impasto enlivening the canvas. This sense of energy is furthered by the way in which the color fields infiltrate one other; deep blue mingles with black, and the bold yellow of the counter’s left-hand-side is transformed into earthy ochre on the right. From this mass of painterly energy, the viewer’s eye is ultimately drawn back to the relative stillness of the white throwaway carton of fries, which appears to half-float within the bounds of the canvas.

Similarly to Thiebaud’s celebrated paintings of cakes and confectionary, French Fries invites the viewer to partake, but the compositional structure defies that possibility, creating instead a sense of distance and longing. Thus, this isolated icon of Americana becomes, like a zoomed-in fragment of an Edward Hopper painting, both a commentary on modern life and an exercise in the possibilities of paint.

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