WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
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WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
4 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Roger Sant Collection
WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)

Pieces of Pumpkin

WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
Pieces of Pumpkin
signed and dated 'Thiebaud 1962' (upper right); signed again 'Thiebaud' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1962.
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Morton G. Neumann, Chicago
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 8 May 1984, lot 55
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Private collection, California
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 13 May 2008, lot 48
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Pop, October-November 1963, p. 5.
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Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Captivating in their pictorial simplicity, yet complex in their technical execution, Wayne Thiebaud’s 1960s canvases featuring confectionary and baked goods are among the postwar period’s most beguiling paintings. In Pieces of Pumpkin, an early example of the artist’s famed still-lifes, four slices of pumpkin pie are laid out for our delectation. This seemingly unassuming composition belies the painstaking process by which Thiebaud constructs his paintings, meticulously studying his composition before applying luscious layers of thick paint with almost Fauve-like abandon. Painted at the same time as Andy Warhol’s iconic Pop canvases of Campbell’s soup cans, Thiebaud’s popular pies go far beyond a celebration of American consumerism, indeed, they appear to yearn for a time before standardization and mass-production.

Pieces of Pumpkin displays four slices of pumpkin pie. Laid out on the counter top, their unyielding forms are testament of Thiebaud’s precise and prescribed style of painting. Close inspection rewards the viewer with details of the artist’s remarkable practice of using color to evoke mood and memory. Placed on simple white plates, the pies plump forms seem commonplace, but the shadows that fall over the upper sections and crusts of the pies is comprised of a myriad of delicate hues. These seemingly dark recesses are in fact comprised of gentle greens, mauves, pinks and reds; prismatic colors that merge together to cast a soft pall over their subject matter. This remarkable use of color can also be seen around the edges of the plates and the countertops; here the strict lines are fractured into a myriad of rainbow colors which coalesce into their hard-edged forms. As the curator Virginia Mecklenberg has noted “He… sees large truths in small things” (V. M. Mecklenburg, Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection, exh. cat., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., 2015, p. 190).

Unlike the paintings of Warhol, and his contemporary Roy Lichtenstein, both of whom attempted to mask the hand of the artist, Thiebaud celebrates the painterly process. In the present work, Thiebaud’s joyous application of paint can be seen in the luscious brushstrokes that delinate the pies themselves almost as if they have been filled using a paintbrush instead of the usual chef’s palette knife. The slices all appear to the same size and sit in identical plates. Yet, close examination reveals that the pies are all different. The rhythm and tempo of the brushstrokes, what Thiebaud calls the “brush dance” of a picture, define shapes and edges and activate the otherwise chromatic uniformity of background and counter” (V. M. Mecklenburg, ibid., p. 193).

A staple of the Thanksgiving holiday, pumpkin pie is as American as, well, apple pie; it is consistently voted the country’s second favorite dessert, after cherry pie and ahead of the supposedly ubiquitous apple pie. It has become an essential of America’s favorite holiday, the only time in a secular society when the whole families come together to celebrate the holidays. As such it holds a particularly nostalgic place in the national psyche. Thus, it becomes the perfect subject for Theibaud’s unique brand of reminiscence. “Commonplace objects are constantly changing and when I paint the ones I remember, I am like Chardin tattling on what we were. The pies, for example, we now see are not going to be around forever. We’re merely used to the idea that things do not change” (W. Thiebaud, quoted by S. Nash, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2000, p. 19).

By simultaneously working in the dual modes of realism and abstraction, Thiebaud’s still-lifes exist in a special arena, where personal memories become encoded and hidden messages are implied. From a seemingly ordinary object, Thiebaud was able to tease out its laden meaning and hidden potential. He has remarked, “[My subject matter] was a genuine sort of experience that came out of my life, particularly the American world in which I was privileged to be. It just seemed to be the most genuine thing which I had done” (W. Thiebaud, quoted in Steve A. Nash, “Unbalancing Acts: Wayne Thiebaud Reconsidered,” Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, New York, 2000, p. 18).

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