Ponds and Streams
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wbillingsley's picture


When most of the world thinks of California they typically think of either L.A. or San Francisco.

They imagine beaches and Hollywood and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, these places, while significant, are still only a fraction of what there is to see. There is a lot more to the sunshine state that unfortunately goes underappreciated.

That lesser known California is what Wayne Thiebaud is trying to capture here. This landscape is the artist's memory of Sacramento. Even though it is only about two hours from San Francisco, the capital of California has a notably more rural vibe. This goes doubly so for when Wayne was a young man before World War II, as the city as it stands today did not start expanding to modern size until 1946.

Wayne is the perfect artist to capture this scene, because the majority of California is really dry and brown, and if you don’t have an eye for its particular wild and western desert beauty, you can easily miss it. Wayne is primarily known as a Pop artist in the vein of Andy Warhol, and made his name bringing warmth to a genre otherwise defined by highlighting things in a more advertorial manner. Here he does the same thing, adding whimsical colors that he learned to wield while working for Disney in 1936 to a landscape that in reality is not quite so vibrant. 

It is an unfortunate fact that the artist is not particularly proud of this work; he is quoted as calling it and other landscape paintings like it a “mess." To be fair, it is a bit of a departure from pictures like Pie Counter which is the type of work for which he is best known. But I really can't agree with his self-deprecation, as this picture, though the composition may not be as crisp as some of his other paintings, captures a rather overlooked part of agricultural California that should be appreciated for its beauty. (Not to mention revenue! Even after urban sprawl, Sacramento County is an important contributor to California's overall farming industry.)

It makes sense that this wonderful homage to a long lost countryside was preserved by one Richard Goldman and his foundation. Richard Goldman was a philanthropist who started the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is one of the top ecological awards in existence. Richard Gordman donated the painting to the de Young Museum in 2001 before dying nine years later at the age of 90.



  1. McGuigan, Cathleen “Wayne Thiebaud Is Not a Pop Artist” Smithsonian 02/01/2011
  2. Web Contributor “History” City of Sacramento viewed on 12/09/2019
  3. Web Contributor “Wayne Thiebaud” Berggruen Gallery viewed on 12/09/2019
  4. Web Contributor “Wayne Thiebaud” SFMOMA viewed on 12/9/2019
  5. Zinko, Carolyne “Richard Goldman, S.F. philanthropist, dies at 90” SF Gate 11/30/2010

Comments (3)

J Schiffler

When people think of California, they think of celebrities in Los Angeles, the big cities, and the Pacific Ocean, but not many of people think about the stunning places outside of the cities. I was able to experience one of the more natural places in California which is the Redwood Forest. As a kid I was expecting to be stuck in a hotel in a big city, but we ended up in one of the biggest forests in the world with tons of wildlife around us. Wayne Thiebaud does an amazing job in his "Ponds and Streams" artwork of showing how adventurous California really is. He wants people to know that there is more than just the cities and the skyscrapers. California has many crops that they can grow through most of the year. This artwork could bring some attention to California so they can be known for more than just the big cities. This artwork is interesting to the eye. It seems as if you are sitting on a hill looking down to the pond, but once you reach the end of the pond, it seems as if the land is very distanced. There is lots of depth and space within this colorful artwork.


Most people when they think of California, they immediately think of tourist hotspots, such as LA, Sacramento, Beverly Hills, etc. However, California is an extremely diverse state geographically. To the north are the beautiful mountains, Red Wood forest, and cooler weather. To the south are the highly popular beaches and warmer weather. Wayne Thiebaud in his piece shows the diverse and mesmerizing landscape of the lesser known parts of California. The body of water in the center of the painting shows the importance of water in farming and our daily lives. The varying forms, colors, and shapes of the fields speaks to the diversity of different crops grown in California. The climate allows for a unique growing opportunity found nowhere else in the United States. Crops such as grapes, strawberries, various nuts, and other fruits are able to be grown in this climate. Thiebaud's piece allows for the importance of California to the nation's farming industry to be brought to light.


I love how Wayne Thiebaud tries to capture what California looked like before a lot of the development happened. Even though places like LA and Sacramento are the main focal point of the state, there are still thousands of acres of land still in its rural state. That's where the state gets its beauty too. The expression of color and contrast are used wonderfully and it really helps show the beauty of California in such a unique way.