Wayne Thiebaud - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • "I’m interested in foods generally which have been fooled with ritualistically, displays contrived and arranged in certain ways to tempt or seduce us."
    —Wayne Thiebaud

    An arresting example of Wayne Thiebaud’s most iconic imagery, Berry Cake embodies the artist’s reinvigoration of still-life painting through his unique Pop lexicon that explored the joys of modern American culture. Belonging to his career-long series of mouthwatering cakes and desserts, the present work, painted in 2017-2018, reflects Thiebaud’s mastery of the subject that first engrossed him in the early 1960s. In the present work, the artist manifests his signature technique of “object transference,” in which his rich application of paint mimics the object he depicts. Here, thick impasto doubles as luscious frosting while textured slathers of purple imitate a fresh spread of berry preserves, bringing the delectable cake to life in oil paint. Transforming the mundane into the extraordinary under Thiebaud’s painterly hand, Berry Cake encapsulates the artist’s amusing response on the sensual edibility of his works: “the painting and the frosting...that’s a real indulgence.”i 

  • Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1948. Galleria d’Arte Moderna Bologna. Image: © DeA Picture Library / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Giorgio Morandi, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome 


    Best known for his tantalizing paintings of confectionary goods on display, Thiebaud began his investigations at the onset of his career in 1961 and revisited the theme over the course of the next five decades. Belying their creation from memory, Thiebaud’s desserts are rooted in nostalgia and the experiences of his youth. In the artist’s words, “Most of the objects are fragments of actual experience. For instance, I would really think of the bakery counter; of the way the counter was lit, where the pies were placed but I wanted just a piece of the experience...Those little vedute in fragmented circumstances were always poetic to me.”ii Here, Thiebaud offers a glimpse into the inner layers of the otherwise whole cake by depicting a quarter sliced off, revealing his exploration of complex relationships with shape and shadow while materializing the lyricism he found in “the vedute in fragmented circumstances.” The present work further captures a striking allusion to memory in the hazy suggestion of the cake stand lid that creates an elusive aura around his subject oscillating between presence and absence.

     "I [chose confections] because I hadn’t seen anyone paint those things, which I looked upon and found quite interesting and beautiful. If you really look at a lemon meringue pie or a beautiful cake, it’s kind of a work of art, and that’s what attracted me."
    —Wayne Thiebaud 

    Emanating a sense of idealization and nostalgia that pervades the artist’s oeuvre, Berry Cake captures Thiebaud’s unique take on Pop. Though widely remembered as a Pop artist, Thiebaud departed from his contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg by offering an introspective celebration of American life and consumer culture in his work. As Adam Gopnick observed, “[Thiebaud’s work]…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.”iii In the present work, the artist elevates the cake into an object of Giorgio Morandi-esque contemplation, shining the light seductively onto his subject and emboldening its stately presence in the deep shadow that suggestively extends past the composition. Here, Thiebaud conjures the deep influence of Edward Hopper on his work by presenting a meditative reflection on everyday life in modern America.


    [left] Edward Hopper, Table with Ladies, 1930. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Heirs of Josephine Hopper / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  [right] Claes Oldenburg, Floor Cake, 1962. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Claes Oldenburg 

    "Staring fixedly at an object does something to expand time. The more you look at it, the more the edges, the inside and the minute particles quiver. It is almost as if it is loaded and you recognize a kind of stillness which tends to vibrate. When I stroke around the object with a loaded paintbrush it is calculated to echo the presence of that object."
    —Wayne Thiebaud

    The literal and metaphorical evocations found in Berry Cake are engendered by Thiebaud’s process of “object transference,” which plays in tandem with what he calls the “isolation of the object.” Placing his subjects against a single-colored background, his objects are quite literally brought to the surface through rich brushwork and luscious hues, mimicking their source through the materiality of the paint. Here, the cake’s cream-colored icing emerges from its background through Thiebaud’s variegated application of paint. Further manifesting the artist’s mastery of color, the juxtaposition of warm and cool tones in Berry Cake showcases his critical technique dubbed “halation,” presenting a prismatic orchestration of color that contours and energizes each elemental form of the composition. From the confection and cake stand, to the imparted shadows and rendered surfaces, the sensational visual effect offered by the present work embodies Adam Gopnik’s observation of Thiebaud’s most recognizable subject. “The cakes, which seem so honestly and forthrightly described, turn out, when they’re seen up close, to be outlined with rings and rainbows of pure color; bright blues and reds and purples, which register at a distance only as a just perceptible vibrator. These rings are Thiebaud’s own invention; there’s nothing quite like them in any other painting.”iv 


    Thiebaud’s Confections in Museum Collections

  • i Wayne Thiebaud, quoted in Martin Gayford, “Geometry, pastries and paint: an interview with Wayne Thiebaud,” Apollo Magazine, September 16, 2017, online.
    ii Wayne Thiebaud, quoted in Steven A. Nash, “Unbalancing Acts: Wayne Thiebaud Reconsidered,” in Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2000, p. 18.
    iii Adam Gopnik, “The Art World: Window Gazing,” The New Yorker, April 29, 1991, p. 80.
    iv Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Lebaron's Fine Art, Sacramento
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property from a Sophisticated Collection


Berry Cake

incised with the artist's signature and date "♥ Thiebaud 2018" upper right; incised with the artist's signature and date "♥ Thiebaud 2017" lower left; signed and dated "♥ Thiebaud 2017 2018" on the reverse
oil on board
18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Painted in 2017-2018.

Full Cataloguing

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $2,813,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022