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Property from the Collection of the Frances Hamilton White Trust

Tomato Bowl

Tomato Bowl
incised with the artist's signature and date '?Thiebaud 03' (upper edge); signed again and dated again '?Thiebaud 03' (on the reverse)
oil on paperboard mounted on panel
11 3/8 x 8 1/8 in. (28.9 x 20.6 cm.)
Painted in 2003.
Paul Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
Art in America, vol. 92, no. 11, 2004, p. 22.
San Francisco, Paul Thiebaud Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud, November-December 2004.

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A group of paintings spanning nearly a decade, Tomato Bowl (2003), Jewelry Display (1997) and Ridge Valley Farms Study (2001) elegantly showcase Wayne Thiebaud’s talents as a still life painter known for drawing attention to the intricacy and beauty of everyday objects as well as his mastery of landscape. Within a matter of brushstrokes, Thiebaud sweeps his brush seamlessly from one genre to another, first bringing his viewer high above an expansive landscape, where only the outline of a tree or shadow of a ploughed field are discernible, before delivering them within the curvature of a ring, bouncing color towards an invisible light source.

Unlike both of the aforementioned paintings, Tomato Bowl showcases a subject that most people would not typically think of as worthy of further attention: a single bowl with a cluster of tomatoes. The most recent painting of the three, Tomato Bowl shows a group of the fruit in a reflective bowl atop a light purple table. This familiar scene of a tomato bowl perhaps in one’s kitchen, draws upon the nostalgia that Thiebaud worked so hard to harness. Throughout history, artists like the Dutch masters Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn, have constantly used the practice of still life painting to hone their skills. Although not typical, some of those works were made for public consumption so the artist could utilize the simplicity of the subject to showcase their mastery of shadow and light, and here we find the contemporary iteration of that impulse in the hand of a master of the contemporary era. Thiebaud, like many artists of his generation, challenged that idea and worked to redefine the canon of “high art.” Although implementing the same techniques, the subject matter of Tomato Bowl celebrates the bright colors of a fresh tomato, the fresh exuberances of life itself, while the masters of the past harped on the decay and rot inherent to nature as it ages. A contemporary of Thiebaud, Andy Warhol was best known for his depictions of American consumerism and arguably most famous for his numerous renderings of Campbell’s soup cans. Works like these are what defined the era of Pop Art that propelled Thiebaud in his career.

The brushstrokes in Tomato Bowl intentionally move across the canvas with each outline holding colors one would not think to include, but perfectly incorporates the confectionary palette for which the artist is known. As in other pieces, it is the color that highlights the scene, not necessarily the subject. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Thiebaud’s work was gentle, conveying a sense of nostalgia that so many craved, rather than the irony and ostentatiousness of his Pop contemporaries. Tomato Bowl, like Jewelry Display and Ridge Valley Farms Study, creates a calm, serene atmosphere as if the object and the viewer are alone in the intimate universe Thiebaud created.

Each work in this collection, including the artist’s mastery in printmaking and on paper, exemplifies the skill of Wayne Thiebaud throughout different moments in his career. His work delves deeper than the Pop art genre so popular in the latter half of the twentieth century. Time has proven that his paintings are more than just a snapshot of consumer goods, but a celebration of life and the intricacies that exist within even its greatest simplicities. His subject matter is carefully thought out and elegantly deployed, seemingly always inviting the viewer inward. His body of work encompasses a culture frozen in time, living on through his brushstrokes and distinct color palette, making it so not even a bowl of tomatoes will be overlooked when analyzing the canon of art history and the experience of being alive.

“His method…has the effect not of eliminating the Pop resonance of his subjects but of slowing down and chastening the associations they evoke, so that a host of ambivalent feelings—nostalgic and satiric and elegiac—can come back later, calmed down and contemplative: enlightened” (A. Gopnik, “Window Gazing,” The New Yorker, 29 April 1991, p. 80).

About the Collector:

Throughout her long and fruitful life, Frances Hamilton White (1933-2021) made an immeasurable impact both on the people with whom she surrounded herself and those who never knew her. Growing up in West Virginia, it was not long before Frances found her destined home on the West Coast, moving first to La Mesa in Southern California before settling a few miles north in Cardiff. Taking an interest less in any one philanthropic cause and more in humanity as a whole, Frances ensured the existence of the Hamilton Glaucoma Center at the Shiley Eye Institute of UC San Diego, jumpstarted a home-delivered meal service for patients affected by terminal illness, saw to the ongoing educational initiatives of institutions meaningful to her locale and dedicated herself to nature’s healing power through the Nature Collective. In all this, Frances still found time to appreciate visual culture, intentionally supporting artists native to her adopted state and sitting on the board of the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. A faithful patron of the Paul Thiebaud Gallery in San Francisco, Frances collected widely, often buying directly from the artists’ studio, as in the case of the spectacular Thiebauds in her collection. Public donations aside, Frances is remembered as a delightful person, loved by those who had the pleasure of coming into her orbit. Frances’s legacy, thus, is one of committed kindness to a community of creators about which she deeply cared.

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