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We often pigeonhole and stereotype artists and associate them with certain types of work they have created, and Wayne Thiebaud is no exception.

But can you really blame us? After all, he did paint a lot of food. It turns out that Thiebaud’s not the only artist obsessed with thinking about what he’ll have for lunch, though. Jeff Koons’s painting Sandwiches , Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture, and James Rosenquist’s gigantic ode to spaghetti all prove otherwise. And like all these other artists, Thiebaud’s oeuvre also extends beyond the purely gastronomical. 

He also has a passion for painting landscapes – all of which have no sweets in sight. Always a West Coast guy, who continues to live in the Bay Area at the ripe old age of 96, Thiebaud frequently depicts the city of San Francisco. Upon closer inspection, this transition from neat lines of cakes and pastries in display cases to cityscapes actually isn’t as random as you might think. Both types of paintings play on Thiebaud’s interest in mass-produced objects. After all, we build the environments around us using products that more than likely also come from assembly lines.

Thiebaud may have decided to switch it up from cakes and pies because of a feeling that these delectable desserts would cause others to not consider him as a serious artist. Early on in his career, a gallerist told him that he was “not Picasso.” Well, duh. But, bless his heart, this putdown only motivated Thiebaud to keep trying. After getting denied by every gallery he visited on a journey up and down Madison Avenue in New York, Thiebaud almost gave up on the idea of finding a place to sell his work. Finally, he happened upon the Allan Stone Gallery, which welcomed Thiebaud somewhat hesitantly. His inaugural show ended up enormously successful. The gallery sold out, and the Museum of Modern Art  even bought one of his paintings.

Thiebaud is such a humble guy that you would never guess that his top selling price at auction was $1.7 million. Not Picasso, but still impressive! Thiebaud’s city snapshots stress the geometric nature of cities to demonstrate how human presence alters the landscape. He focuses on the basic elements of art, like color, form, line, and space that can be found in a city. He hits the nail right on the head when he shows just how crazy hilly San Francisco is.

His paint handling derives from the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was even friends with Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Despite these friendships, Thiebaud could never match the level of angst inherent to the New York School. So he couldn’t be called an Abstract Expressionist. And even though he made a career of painting ordinary objects similar to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, whatever you do, don’t call Wayne a Pop artist. Instead, Thiebaud considers his work to descend from the Realist work of Thomas Eakins and Giorgio Morandi.




  1. Arnason, H.H., and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art, 7th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013.
  2. Artsy. “Biography.” Wayne Thiebaud. Artists. Accessed June 19, 2017.
  3. CBS Sunday Morning. “Wayne Thiebaud.” YouTube. Posted May 10, 2008. Accessed June 19, 2017.
  4. McGuigan, Cathleen. “Wayne Thiebaud Is Not a Pop Artist.” Smithsonian Magazine. February 2011, Accessed June 19, 2017.
  5. Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection.” Exhibitions. Accessed June 19, 2017.
  6. Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Luce Artist Biography.” Wayne Thiebaud. Search Collections. Accessed June 19, 2017.
  7. Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Singular Impressions: Contemporary Monotype Phenomenon.” Online Exhibitions. Accessed June 19, 2017.
  8. The Art Story. “Stuart Davis.” Artists. 2017. Accessed June 19, 2017.