Wayne Thiebaud

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Wayne Thiebaud
Morton Wayne Thiebaud[1]

(1920-11-15) November 15, 1920 (age 100)
EducationSacramento State College
San Jose State College
Sacramento State
Known forPainting, Printmaking
MovementPop Art, New Realism, Bay Area Figurative Movement
AwardsNational Medal of Arts (1994)

Wayne Thiebaud (/ˈtb/ TEE-boh; born November 15, 1920) is an American painter known for his colorful works depicting commonplace objects—pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries, and hot dogs—as well as for his landscapes and figure paintings. Thiebaud is associated with the pop art movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, although his early works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included in his work.

Early life and education[edit]

Thiebaud was born to Morton and Alice Thiebaud in Mesa, Arizona.[2] They moved a year later to Southern California where the family lived for most of Thiebaud’s childhood until he graduated from secondary school in Long Beach, California.[3] Thiebaud and his family were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his father was bishop when he was a teenager.[2] Morton Thiebaud was a Ford mechanic, foreman at Gold Medal Creamery, traffic safety supervisor, and real estate agent.[2]

One summer during his high school years he apprenticed at Walt Disney Studios drawing "in-betweens" of Goofy, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket at a rate of $14 a week.[4] The next summer he studied at the Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles. From 1938 to 1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in California and New York. He served as an artist in the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1945.[5]

In 1949, he enrolled at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University) before transferring to Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento), where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951 and a master's degree in 1952.

Early career[edit]

Thiebaud subsequently began teaching at Sacramento City College. In 1960, he became assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, where he remained through 1991 and influenced numerous art students. He continues to hold a Professor Emeritus title there. Thiebaud did not have much of a following among Conceptual artists because of his adherence to basically traditional disciplines, emphasis on hard work as a supplement to creativity, and love of realism. Occasionally, he gave pro bono lectures at U.C. Davis.

On a leave of absence during 1956–57, he spent time in New York City, where he became friends with Elaine and Willem de Kooning[3] and Franz Kline, and was much influenced by these abstractionists as well as by proto-pop artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. During this time, he began a series of very small paintings based on images of food displayed in windows, and he focused on their basic shapes.

Returning to California, he pursued this subject matter and style, isolating triangles, circles, squares, etc. He also co-founded the Artists Cooperative Gallery, now Artists Contemporary Gallery, and other cooperatives including Pond Farm, having been exposed to the concept of cooperatives in New York.

In 1960, he had his first solo show in San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and shows in New York City at the Staempfli and Tanager galleries. These shows received little notice, but two years later, a 1962 Sidney Janis Gallery exhibition in New York officially launched Pop Art, bringing Thiebaud national recognition, although he disclaimed being anything other than a painter of illusionistic form.

In 1961, Thiebaud met and became friends with art dealer Allan Stone (1932–2006), the man who gave him his first "break."[5] Stone was Thiebaud's dealer until Stone's death in 2006.[6] Stone said of Thiebaud "I have had the pleasure of friendship with a complex and talented man, a terrific teacher and cook, the best raconteur in the west with a spin serve, and a great painter whose magical touch is exceeded only by his genuine modesty and humility. Thiebaud's dedication to painting and his pursuit of excellence inspire all who are lucky enough to come in contact with him. He is a very special man." After Stone's death, Thiebaud's son Paul Thiebaud (1960–2010) took over as his dealer. Paul Thiebaud was a successful art dealer in his own right and had eponymous galleries in Manhattan and San Francisco; he died June 19, 2010.

In 1962, Thiebaud's work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Robert Dowd, in the historically important and ground-breaking "New Painting of Common Objects," curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum at Pasadena).[7] This exhibition is historically considered one of the first Pop Art exhibitions in America. These painters were part of a new movement, in a time of social unrest, which shocked America and the art world.

In 1963, he turned increasingly to figure painting: wooden and rigid, with each detail sharply emphasized. In 1964, he made his first prints at Crown Point Press, and has continued to make prints throughout his career. In 1967, his work was shown at the Biennale Internationale.

Wayne Thiebaud has been married twice. With his first wife, Patricia Patterson, he had two children, one of whom is the model and writer Twinka Thiebaud. With his second wife, Betty Jean Carr, he had a son, Paul LeBaron Thiebaud, who became an art dealer. He also adopted Betty's son, Matthew.[8][9]


Three Machines, 1963, De Young Museum, San Francisco

Thiebaud is well known for his paintings of production line objects found in diners and cafeterias, such as pies and pastries. As a young man in Long Beach, he worked at a cafe named Mile High and Red Hot, where "Mile High" was ice cream and "Red Hot" was a hot dog.[10]

He was associated with the Pop art painters because of his interest in objects of mass culture; however, his works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists, suggesting that Thiebaud may have had an influence on the movement. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included in his work.[4] Thiebaud is averse to labels such as "fine art" versus "commercial art" and has described himself as "just an old-fashioned painter".[11] He dislikes Andy Warhol's "flat" and "mechanical" paintings and does not count himself as a pop artist.[12][13]

In addition to pastries, Thiebaud has painted characters such as Mickey Mouse as well as landscapes, streetscapes, and cityscapes, which were influenced by the work of Richard Diebenkorn.[14] His paintings such as Sunset Streets (1985) and Flatland River (1997) are noted for their hyper realism, and have been compared to Edward Hopper's work, another artist who was fascinated with mundane scenes from everyday American life.[14]

Thiebaud is a voracious reader and is known for reading poetry to his students.[citation needed] Among his pupils was the painter Faith Bromberg.[15]

Notable works[edit]

  • 1961 Drink Syrups
  • 1961 Pies, Pies, Pies
  • 1962 Around the Cake
  • 1962 Bakery Counter
  • 1962 Confections
  • 1962 Candy Machine
  • 1963 Display Cakes
  • 1963 Cakes
  • 1963 Girl with Ice Cream Cone
  • 1964 Three Strawberry Shakes
  • 1964 Eight Lipsticks
  • 1964 Man Sitting - Back View
  • 1964 Lemon Cake
  • 1966 Powder With Puff
  • 1968 Coloma Ridge
  • 1970 Seven Suckers
  • 1971 Four Cupcakes
  • 1975 Shoe Rows
  • 1976 Potrero Hill
  • 1977 24th Street Intersection
  • 1981 Hill Street (Day City)
  • 1987 Two Paint Cans
  • 1991 The Three Cows
  • 1992 Thirteen Books
  • 1993 Apartment View
  • 1993 Coastline (California Arts Council specialty license plate)[16][17]
  • 1996 Farm Channel
  • 1999 Reservoir
  • 2000 Clown Cones
  • 2002 Jolly Cones (Ice Cream Cones)
  • 2008 Three Ice cream Cones
  • 2010 The Google 12th Birthday Cake
  • 2010 Tulip Sundae


Thiebaud's works are also in permanent collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; Phoenix Art Museum.[18] Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, Kansas City, Missouri; and many other institutions.

The Crocker has also hosted a Thiebaud exhibition every decade since 1951,[19] including Wayne Thiebaud 100 to honor the artist's 100th birthday in 2020.[20]


In 1987, Thiebaud was awarded the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[21] On October 14, 1994, Thiebaud was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design in 2001.[18] Thiebaud was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010 at the California Museum, Sacramento,[18] and in 2013, he was honored with the California Art Award in recognition of his part in raising the prominence of California art around the world.[22]

Auction record[edit]

In November 2019, Sotheby's set an auction record for the artist's work Encased Cakes, sold for $8.5 million.[23][24]


One of Thiebaud's students from Sacramento City College was the artist Fritz Scholder (1937–2005), who went on to become a major influence in the direction of American Indian art through his instruction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1964–1969). Mel Ramos, a painter and retired professor of art at California State University, East Bay, considers Thiebaud to be his mentor.[25] Sharon Core is a photographer known for her photographic interpretations of Thiebaud's works.


  1. ^ "Wayne Thiebaud biography". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Kuz, Martin. "Wayne Thiebaud {The First 90 Years}", Sactown Magazine, October 2010. Retrieved on 15 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b Brown, Patricia Leigh (September 29, 2010). "Sweet Home California". New York Times. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  4. ^ a b McGuigan, Cathleen (February 2011). "Wayne Thiebaud Is Not a Pop Artist". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  5. ^ a b Thiebaud and Berkson 1994 (unpaginated).
  6. ^ "Gallery". Allan Stone Gallery. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Museum History". Norton Simon Museum. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  8. ^ Gallery memorial Retrieved August 27, 2010
  9. ^ Paul Thiebaud, art dealer son of painter, dies
  10. ^ Scheller, William (2008). America, a history in art: the American journey told by painters, sculptors, photographers, and architects. Black Dog Publishing.
  11. ^ "Thiebaud on Being a Pop Artist". Smithsonian. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  12. ^ Boxer, Sarah (February 17, 2008). "Life Is Sweet". New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  13. ^ Hodge, Susie (2012). Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained. pp. 42–43. ISBN 9783791347356. LCCN 2012940064.
  14. ^ a b Yau, John (July–August 2010). "Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting". The Brooklyn Rail.
  15. ^ Jules Heller; Nancy G. Heller (19 December 2013). North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-63882-5.
  16. ^ Knight, Christopher (June 29, 2010). "Wayne Thiebaud's Pop art license plate design". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "Arts Plate". California Arts Council. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c Wayne Thiebaud: A Retrospective, October 23 - November 30, 2012 Acquavella Galleries, New York.
  19. ^ "Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints and Drawings". Crocker Museum. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  20. ^ "Wayne Thiebaud 100". Crocker Museum. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  21. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org.
  22. ^ David Ng (October 14, 2013), Wayne Thiebaud donates works to Laguna Art Museum Los Angeles Times.
  23. ^ KAZAKINA, KATYA (June 14, 2020). "Rare 'pinball machine' painting by Wayne Thiebaud may fetch $25 million at Christie's auction next month". Bloomberg.
  24. ^ https://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2019/contemporary-art-evening-n10149/lot.30.html?locale=en
  25. ^ Shields, Scott A.; Johnathon Keats; Diana L. Daniels (2012). Mel Ramos: 50 Years of Superheroes, Nudes, and Other Pop Delights. San Francisco: Modernism, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 978-09830673-2-0.


  • John Coplans, "New Paintings of Common Objects", Artforum, November, 1962. (Illustrations)
  • Thiebaud, Wayne, and Bill Berkson. 1994. Wayne Thiebaud: figurative works, 1959-1994 : March 22-April 30, 1994. Belmont, CA: Wiegand Gallery, College of Notre Dame in cooperation with the Northern Arizona Art Museum and Galleries.
  • "1994 Recipients of the National Medal of the Arts," The White House, Office of the Press Secretary (October 13, 1994)
  • Thiebaud, Wayne; Williams, LG; Cooper, Gene; Wayne Thiebaud Lectures on Art and Drawing (PCP Press, 2018) ISBN 1985865432

External links[edit]