Wayne Thiebaud - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Patrick & Mary Dullanty, California, acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection
    Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art Sale, May 11, 2006, lot 222
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    "People say painting’s dead. Fine. It’s dead for you. I don’t care. Painting is alive for me. Painting is life for me.” Wayne Thiebaud

    Wayne Thiebaud’s serene and delectable still lifes painted from 1961 to 1962 belong to one of his oeuvre's most important periods. As seen in the present lot, Hamburger Counter, 1961, the virtuous painter’s superb ability to capture the delicate skin of a tomato slice, the soft curve of a hamburger bun, and the cold and refreshing surface of a bottle is unrivaled.

    It was during this period that Thiebaud started producing some of his most emblematic works, after establishing his essential aesthetic: simplified geometric forms depicted, for example, in the relish, mayonnaise and mustard bottles in this work - painted in brisk brushstrokes and vibrant colors. These brushstrokes create a sensation of linear movement and the sparse background produces a strong lighting effect that is informed by theatrical spotlighting. It further points to a unique means of representation in which Thiebaud isolates each of the objects that he chooses to render on the hamburger counter and aligns them in strict progressions. This technique of representation is specific to Giorgio Morandi, whom Thiebaud greatly admired. As we observe the painting in greater detail, we can see that the technique he uses on the surface of the ketchup bottle, dragging the paint across its body and around its shape, creates a texture that often transforms itself into the very material being depicted. Thiebaud adopts this technique from Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn and David Park.

    It is the subject matter of his still lifes, however, that provide insight into one of the fundamental contributions he has made to contemporary art: he proposes more than just visual pleasure and he distinguishes himself from the Pop movement by his subtext. Although one must not read too much into the symbolism of these still life paintings, Art critic Holland Cotter has accurately pointed out that these, “are personal documents [and] their surfaces are readable as diary entries.” Thus, in the case of Thiebaud, he has often stated that the food he has rendered time and time again in his work has an emotional nexus to his childhood memories. They reflect back on the family picnics where his family served home cooked meals, the food he saw displayed in drugstores, bakeries and hardware stores, as well as his memories of working in restaurants and small stores. However, the food he paints displayed in these bakeries and drugstores in his childhood home evoke something completely different to what Pop artists were trying to evince. The Pop movement satirized consumer society, mass production and advertisement, encoding an element of irony, which Thiebaud did not evoke through his works. On the contrary, the food depicted comments on the people who make it and enjoy it. Curator Steven Nash further states that the objects reflect, “an honest appreciation for aspects of [the] American experience.” One must also remember that Thiebaud had already begun depicting these signature subject matters and techniques (evinced in Hamburger Counter, 1961) as early as the 1950s, well before Warhol, Lichtenstein, and other related Pop artists.

    Geography also plays a pivotal iconographic and stylistic role in his works as he renders, in his still lifes, the childhood objects and memories from when he lived in Sacramento, California, in a modest neighborhood. This is drastically different from the Southern California iconography of palm trees, starlets, grand billboards and Hollywood openings. It was precisely this more austere background that gave him a physical and intellectual distance from the rest of American culture, and also granted him the personal independence to develop artistically in a unique way. Thus, through a simple object such as a hamburger, which is arguably symbolic of American culture, he further evokes a nostalgic American culture that is not only meaningful to some people like Thiebaud, but an American culture and life that for decades has been slowly disappearing. It is also very telling that Thiebaud paints all of these objects from memory. This alludes to how personal, familiar and emotionally fraught these objects are to him. This also reflects a strong sense of yearning, not only of a kid with his nose against a counter window or food cart, longing for a pastry, hamburger or hot dog, but perhaps of this American way of life that is disappearing. It is also very telling that Thiebaud was willing to choose to render these simple objects that represented his American childhood, such as a hamburger or a cake, and bestow on them, as Adam Gopnik states, “the same intensity of purpose that had once been reserved for religion” during Byzantine and Medieval times.

    His commitment to the medium of painting, also distinguishes him from his contemporaries, as he chose the tradition of Realism which was heavily challenged by Modernists. His virtuosity in this medium ultimately shows how the present lot, Hamburger Counter, 1961, serves as an object lesson of precise observation and allows us to think “about the processes of perception, recollection, and the transferal of form into two dimensions” in addition to a charming representation of American culture.


Hamburger Counter

oil on canvas
20 x 31 7/8 in. (50.8 x 81.2 cm)
Signed and dated "Thiebaud 1961" lower right and on the reverse; further signed "Thiebaud" on the stretcher bar.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $2,165,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm