Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920)
Milkshake & Sandwiches
Oil on canvas
16 x 19 3/4 inch (40.6 x 50.1 cm.)
Signed upper middle, “Thiebaud”, and verso, “Thiebaud”
Paul Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, California
Graystone, San Francisco, California
Private Collection, Northern California
Sale: Bonhams & Butterfields Los Angeles, May 24, 2011, Lot 22
Private Collection, California
Milkshake & Sandwiches contains all of Wayne Thiebaud’s trademarks. The lush paints and delicious colors convey the tempting scene – an offering waiting to be devoured.
The work was created one year before Thiebaud’s 2001 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art, which brought even more interest into his work.
Wayne Thiebaud’s oeuvre defies a single prime period because his career is marked by constancy. While his record-achieving paintings span all subjects, those of sweets far exceed those of landscapes and figures, in value per square inch. Specifically, iconic subjects such as pies, candy, and ice cream are among the most desirable.
Wayne Thiebaud is synonymous with his paintings of cakes and pies. Fluffy and bright, these paintings are easily confused with Pop Art, not least of all because many of the Pop Artists were Thiebaud’s contemporaries and, in the case of Mel Ramos, his students. However, there is something else stirring beneath the carefully painted surface. Where Pop Art – from Warhol to Ramos – has a cool detachment, Thiebaud’s canvases ooze warmth and sweetness. While Pop was preoccupied with reproduction, Thiebaud is preoccupied with how we view the physical world. Moreover, his paintings have less to do with the subject and more to do with the process, form, and possibilities of paint.
Dive beyond the bright confections to examine Thiebaud’s exploration of various lighting effects on a single scene. Delight in the play of multiple hues, savoring his color theory, as it surrounds each pastry. Parse the layers and diversity of brush strokes that create figures that are themselves abstract gestures. Because Thiebaud repeats his themes, he is freer to explore the formal aspects of the paintings.
And yet, we cannot completely dismiss the content of Thiebaud’s canvases. His famed series of cakes and pies, and other assortments of baked goods brim with a sense of Americana – wholesome and coy, inviting prosperity, and imbued with warm hospitality. And yet, perhaps in the closest link to Pop Art, there is something plaintive about them. Often devoid of people, there is a solitude that permeates his realms, leaving a bittersweetness on the palette.
His time as a commercial artist has also informed this focus on baked goods – his summer at the animation department of Disney, his illustrations for Universal Pictures’ movie posters, his time at the advertising department of Rexall Drugs. The confectionary, his pinball machines, even his landscapes are informed by his experience, and his love of commercial art – a sense of order and composition to maximize visual appeal. In his own words: “Painting itself is a kind of miracle, because what you’re doing is reducing a three-dimensional world of living, active organized chaos into this little flat, unmoving, quiet, flat thing, which has to, in some ways, be able to speak to you.”
In this way, Thiebaud’s preoccupation with the process of painting and the subconscious exploration of Americana puts the artist at a crossroads with Old Master still life painters, Pop Artists, and American icons such as Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper, the former as a commercial artist, and the latter for his works of quiet meditation.
Milkshake & Sandwiches contains all of Thiebaud’s trademarks. The lush paints and delicious colors convey the tempting scene – an offering waiting to be devoured. A close look at the outlines of the milkshake and sandwiches reveals a multitude of colors, obliging the objects to vibrate with energy, while also heightening our desire to consume them.
It also encapsulates the breadth of Thiebaud’s complexities. The slippage between the painted milkshake and our memory of drinking milkshakes, between the idealized sandwich before us and the messier one we would have had in real life. There are the thick brush strokes, applied as if icing on a cake, making the scene representative but not realistic. All of this together presents a work of profound technique, whose evocations range from longing to humor.
This painting was created one year before Thiebaud’s 2001 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art, which brought even more interest into his work. As we celebrate Thiebaud’s 100th birthday this year, Milkshake & Sandwiches represents an extraordinary opportunity to own an iconic painting by one of America’s most beloved artists.
Wayne Thiebaud, 2017
Wayne Thiebaud at Walt Disney Studios
Wayne Thiebaud at home, Sacramento, 1961 Photo: © Betty Jean Thiebaud
Installation view: Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2000, photo © Whitney Museum
Catalog and Video
- The graph prepared by Art Market Research shows that since 1976, paintings by Wayne Thiebaud have increased at a 14.4% annual rate of return. Milkshakes & Sandwiches sold at auction in May 2011 for $1,072,400 USD. Based on the compound annual growth rate of 14.4%, this painting could be valued at nearly $3.6 million USD today.
- The record price for a Thiebaud painting at auction was recently set in July 2020 when Four Pinball Machines (1962) sold for over $19 million USD.
- Wayne Thiebaud’s oeuvre defies a single prime period because his career is marked by constancy. While his record-achieving paintings span all subjects, those of sweets far exceed those of landscapes and figures, in value per square inch. Specifically, iconic subjects such as pies, candy, or ice cream are among the most desirable.
- Allan Stone provenance is coveted because of the instrumental role he played in Thiebaud’s career. Allan Stone Gallery represented the New York School luminaries including Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman.
- The precocious art dealer’s eye received posthumous affirmation in 2007 when Christie’s auctioned off his estate, including a trove of major Thiebaud works, bringing in $4.52 million USD for Thiebaud’s Seven Suckers (1970). That 2007 sale galvanized the artist’s market ascension.
Top Results at Auction
Comparable Works at Auction
The definitive authority on the authenticity of paintings by Van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum inspected this painting in January 2020 and provided this letter of authenticity. During that inspection, X-ray revealed a second painting under the surface – a portrait of a man.