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  • While the rich palette and impasto-loaded surface of Untitled (Three Cigarettes and a Cigar) bear the hallmark of Wayne Thiebaud’s signature style, this superb still life from 1973 constitutes a relatively small series of representations of cigars and cigarettes. Acquired from Allan Stone Projects, the present work employs the age-old genre to foreground the everyday and the frequently overlooked in his record of contemporary America. Positioning the cigarettes and cigars on the edges of the panel, the artist utilized a uniquely decentralized composition in which the objects act as a sort of synecdoche, hinting at the figures that smoked them and how they were left behind.

     

    Though he does not reveal what prompted the smokers to mysteriously abandon their half-smoked cigarettes and cigars—ostensibly on a busy sidewalk, but perhaps outside a home or workplace—Thiebaud’s work deals less with narrative than it does with the art of looking. In the same way that Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin painted objects that were in his time very quotidian and are now considered interesting in their uncommonness, such as clay pipes and dead rabbits, Thiebaud painted in Three Cigarettes and a Cigar a representation of the mass-produced tobacco products that were ubiquitous tokens of post-war America. The artist articulated: “Commonplace objects are constantly changing, and when I paint the ones I remember, I am like Chardin tattling on what we were.”i

     

    François van Daellen, Vanitas Still Life, circa 1650. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

    An Age-Old Technique, A Fresh Approach

     

    Also evocative of the meditative still lifes of Giorgio Morandi, Thiebaud renders the subtle yet kaleidoscopic contours in Three Cigarettes and a Cigar with great ease and dexterity. This effortless and playful use of color is most evident along the shadows and recesses of the objects where Thiebaud masterfully maneuvers hues of red, yellow, blue and green. His employment of graphic blocks of pure color and shadow may stem from the artist’s early commercial training, during which he worked various odd jobs making cartoons, posters, and advertisements. While Thiebaud is thus often associated with the Pop Art movement due to his vernacular subject matter, his pieces exude a distinctive painterly feel, in part due to his use of the alla prima technique of layering wet paint, causing Three Cigarettes and a Cigar to appear as if it were just executed, despite being it was painted almost 50 years ago.

    "I hope that [my painting] may allow us to see ourselves looking at ourselves."
    —Wayne Thiebaud

    Thiebaud’s work exists in a unique space between abstraction and figuration. He juxtaposes loose brushstrokes against a flat, creamy white background, creating tension between a sterile atmosphere and a surface that is inherently imbued with human touch. “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,” Thiebaud expressed. “When I stroke around the object with a loaded paintbrush it is calculated to echo the presence of that object.”ii

     

    Ray Johnson, James Dean (Lucky Strike), 1957 © Ray Johnson Estate.

    Like in an Edward Hopper painting, human presence is heavily implied in Three Cigarettes and a Cigar, despite the absence of painted figures. The quietly extinguished cigarette to the left of the piece harkens back to iconography of snuffed candles in 15th century Dutch paintings—grounding the scene to a specific time and place. Indeed, just as his gumballs, cakes and ice creams are hallmark images of the post-war era, the cigarettes and cigar in the present work are relics of the culture of mass production and commercialism that permeated American society. Three Cigarettes and a Cigar encourages quiet contemplation, exemplifying Thiebaud’s astute ability to encapsulate everyday America in a single picture of inconspicuous items.

     

     

    i A. LeGrace G. Benson and David H.R. Shearer, “Documents: An Interview with Wayne Thiebaud,” Leonardo, January 1969, p. 70.
    ii Wayne Thiebaud, quoted in John Coplans, Wayne Thiebaud, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, 1968, pp. 35–36. 

    • Provenance

      Allan Stone Collection, New York
      Allan Stone Projects, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Tajan ArtStudio, Over the Golden Gate 1960–1990, October 20–28, 2016

Property of a Distinguished New York Collector

110

Untitled (Three Cigarettes and a Cigar)

incised with the artist's signature and date "♡, Thiebaud 1973" lower right
oil on panel
11 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (28.6 x 36.2 cm)
Painted in 1973.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $630,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021