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ART INDEX: Wayne Thiebaud

A conscious decision to eliminate certain details and include selective bits of personal experiences or perceptual nuances, gives the painting more of a multi-dimension than when it is done directly as a visual recording […]

This results in a kind of abstraction, and thus avoids the pitfalls of mere decoration.”

- Wayne Thiebaud

Food has always been a favorite subject throughout all of art history, being depicted by many artists, let’s just think of Manet’s “Dejuner sur l’erbe” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), or Caravaggio’s “Boy with fruit basket” (Galleria Borghese, Rome). Still, we can confidently say that no other artist has made our tummies rumble like Wayne Thiebaud (1920-2021).

Fig. 1 – Wayne Thiebaud, Display Cakes, 1963, oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (©Artsy)

Born on November 15, 1920, in Mesa, Arizona, the artist moved to California soon after and there he became interested in stage design and lighting. He thus began his career as a commercial artist, working as a store sign painter and an animator for Walt Disney Studios, a career that was abruptly interrupted by the surging of WWII. After the war, he went back to working as an animator and a commercial painter, until he soon switched to fine arts after graduating the California State University at Sacramento at the end on the 1940s. He was later easily introduced in the 1950s New York art scene, coming into contact with artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, and becoming fascinated by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper John. Nevertheless, he kept living on the West coast and never left his university: a professor’s career was waiting for him right at the California State University, one that he never abandoned until the end.

The American artist dedicated the biggest part of his artistic career to depicting desserts. It seems that the idea of representing cakes and pasties using colorful pigments and brushes came to him in his youth when he was working at a diner. His playful and yummy canvases are both pop in their style, but also bear that typically American sensibility and nostalgia even that comes along with the growing consumerism: Thiebaud has in fact always been compared, on one side, to America’s 50s pop art style and, on the other, to artists such as Edward Hopper or even the Italian minimalist painter Giorgio Morandi (side note: have you guys already read our previous article on Giorgio Morandi? If not, you can always catch up!), which are both drenched with a sense of detachment and meditation. Other than his incredibly famous and appreciated sweet still lives, Thiebaud also depicted portraits and landscapes, very recognisable thanks to his unmistakable iconic illustrative colors and style.

Fig. 2 – Wayne Thiebaud, Salads, Sandwiches, and Desserts, 1962, oil on canvas, Walker Art Center Minneapolis (©Artsy)

Wayne Thiebaud had a long life: he lived for 101 years, sadly passing by on the latest Christmas day. His works can be found in the collections of the major American museums, such as the Whitney Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and many others and his works have always been appreciated by collectors and buyers, with a spike in sales and value in the most recent sales (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 – Wayne Thiebaud’s auction turnoover from 2000 to 2022 (©


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