Wayne Thiebaud - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Allan Stone Gallery, New York
    Hackett-Freedman, San Francisco
    Private Collection
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I don’t make a lot of distinctions between things like landscape and figure painting because to me the problems are inherently the same - lighting, color, structure, and so on - certainly traditional and ordinary problems.” Wayne Thiebaud

    Depicted in delectable candy-like hues, Cosmetic Lady is a stellar pairing of Wayne Thiebaud’s signature still lifes of everyday objects with his exploration of the human figure. Thiebaud truly hit his stride as a painter in the early 1960s through his extensive investigation of unequivocally American objects that celebrated ordinary life; painted from memory, Thiebaud’s subjects ranged from desserts, for which he is best known, to pinball machines, cosmetics, tools and toys. Discussing his chosen subject matter, Thiebaud explained: “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… Those little vedute in fragmented circumstances were always poetic to me” (the artist, quoted in Steven A. Nash and Adam Gopnik, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, San Francisco, 2000, p. 18). Though figure painting constitutes a comparatively small part of Thiebaud’s oeuvre, it has also been a significant preoccupation of the artist since 1963 and plays an important role alongside his still lifes in capturing modern taste and accoutrements. In Cosmetic Lady, the figure and neatly aligned cosmetics are pared down to their essential details and lit with dramatic spot lighting, qualities typical of Thiebaud’s irresistible bright modernity.

    Thiebaud experimented with spatial orientation throughout his oeuvre, arranging objects so that they recede deep into the canvas, are seen from an aerial view, or are depicted from straight on. In the present work, the objects are pressed forward against the picture plane, creating a pictorial space with very little depth and a strong emphasis on horizontality formed by the bands of color in the background and the counter that extend to the edges of the composition. The frontal pose of the lady presents a direct juxtaposition - despite her apparent proximity to the viewer, the woman appears to gaze across the counter directly past the viewer in a similar fashion to the elusive barmaid in Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882. Thiebaud explained: “The figures… are not supposed to reveal anything. It’s like seeing a stranger in some place like an air terminal for the first time” (the Artist, quoted in Karen Tsujimoto, Wayne Thiebaud, Seattle and London, 1985, p. 104). As such, the focus of the present work remains squarely on the narrative scene rather than on a psychological analysis of the individual depicted. Posed behind the glass counter, she is isolated from the viewer and, in turn, becomes part of the display of cosmetics on offer. Painted in 1983-86 at the height of his artistic powers, Cosmetic Lady is a testament to Thiebaud’s unwavering commitment to depicting the colorful story of popular culture and his fascination with brash Americana.


Cosmetic Lady

oil on wood
9 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (23.2 x 32.1 cm.)
Painted in 1983-86.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $471,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018