Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Canaletto and the Art of Venice

Friday, 11 May 2018 - Sunday, 21 Oct 2018 

The exhibition presents a spectacular selection of eighteenth-century Venetian art, with Canaletto's greatest works shown alongside paintings and works on paper by Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Francesco Zuccarelli, Rosalba Carriera, Pietro Longhi and Giovanni Battista Piazzetta. The exhibition explores the many delights of eighteenth-century Venice, from the splendours of the Grand Canal and St Mark's Square to its festivals, theatre and masked carnival, bringing the irresistible allure of the most beautiful city in the world to The Queen's Gallery.

The Royal Collection contains the world's finest group of paintings, drawings and prints by Venice's most famous view-painter, Canaletto (1697-1768). These works were bought by the young George III in 1762 from Canaletto's agent and dealer Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice, along with the rest of Smith's huge collection.

Smith first met Canaletto in the early 1720s, and quickly spotted his potential. Their relationship developed into an unofficial partnership of mutual benefit, and a friendship that was to last for over 40 years.

Canaletto’s paintings of Venetian views found a lucrative market among the British Grand Tourists in Venice who wanted paintings of the city to take back to Britain as souvenirs. Smith acted as Canaletto’s agent, liaising between artist and patron, handling payments and shipping works to Britain. At the same time Smith commissioned many paintings from Canaletto for his own collection, such as the series of 12 paintings of the Grand Canal that promoted his work to the many visitors Smith received in his palazzo.

Smith also supported Canaletto in more difficult times: in the 1740s the War of the Austrian Succession disrupted the steady stream of visitors to Venice, and as the artist’s workload declined, Smith commissioned a series of monumental views of Rome and a set of overdoor paintings. In 1746 Smith arranged for Canaletto to travel to Britain, where he stayed for almost ten years.

By 1762, when his collection was sold to George III, Joseph Smith had amassed the greatest collection in existence of paintings and drawings by Canaletto.

In 1762 the young monarch George III purchased virtually the entire collection of Joseph Smith, the greatest patron of art in Venice at the time. Thanks to this single acquisition, the Royal Collection contains one of the finest groups of 18th-century Venetian art in the world, including the largest collection of works by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto.

Through over 200 paintings, drawings and prints from the Royal Collection's exceptional holdings, Canaletto & the Art of Venice presents the work of Venice's most famous view-painter alongside that of his contemporaries, including Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Rosalba Carriera, Francesco Zuccarelli, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and Pietro Longhi, and explores how they captured the essence and allure of Venice for their 18th-century audience, as they still do today.

Joseph Smith (c.1674−1770) was an English merchant and later British Consul in Venice, a post dealing with Britain’s maritime, commercial and trading interests.  He had moved to Italy in around 1700 and over several decades built up an outstanding art collection, acting as both patron and dealer to many contemporary Venetian artists.  Smith was Canaletto's principal agent, selling his paintings to the wealthy Grand Tourists who were drawn to Venice's cultural attractions.  His palazzo on the Grand Canal became a meeting place for collectors, patrons, scholars and tourists, where visitors could admire his vast collection and commission their own versions of Canaletto's views to take home. 

Image result

Canaletto The Mouth of the Grand Canal looking West towards the Carità, c.1729

Image result

Canaletto - The Royal Collection RCIN 400523. Title: The Grand Canal looking east

The Bacino di S. Marco on Ascension Day by Canaletto
The Bacino di S. Marco on Ascension Day by Canaletto Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

The Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Salute looking East towards the Bacino
The Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Salute
One of the most important of Smith's commissions from Canaletto was the series of 12 paintings of the Grand Canal, which together create a near complete journey down the waterway.  Canaletto's sharp-eyed precision makes these views seem powerfully real, yet he rearranged and altered elements of each composition to create ideal impressions of the city. Two larger paintings are of festivals, including the 'Sposalizio del Mar', or 'Wedding of the Sea', which took place on Ascension Day and attracted crowds of British visitors.  The Grand Canal was a subject frequently captured by Canaletto, including in a series of six drawings, among them Venice: The central stretch of the Grand Canal, c.1734.  Intended as works of art in their own right, rather than as preparatory studies for paintings, the drawings are carefully constructed and rich in tone and detail.

Alongside the grand public entertainments, Venice boasted a thriving opera and theatre scene, especially during carnival season.  The need to create stage sets within a very short period of time provided plentiful employment for Venetian artists.  Both Marco Ricci and Canaletto worked for the theatre, where they learned how to manipulate perspective to heighten drama.

The exhibition includes several of Ricci's designs for the Venetian stage, such as A room with a balcony supported by Atlantes, c.1726.  Marco Ricci also produced caricatures of opera singers, such as the drawing of the internationally famed castrato Farinelli, which were circulated among Joseph Smith and his fellow Venetian collectors and opera aficionados.

On display together for the first time are personifications of the Four Seasons by Rosalba Carriera, whose pastels were highly prized by European collectors.  They were intended to be hung in private domestic spaces, such as dressing rooms, bedrooms or small antechambers.  Carriera was one of the first artists to develop a commercial relationship with Joseph Smith, and her sensual pastel of 'Winter', c.1726, an allegorical female figure wrapped in furs, was one of the most admired works in Smith's collection.

Canaletto, Marco Ricci and Francesco Zuccarelli all contributed to the development of the genre known as the capriccio – scenes combining real and imaginary architecture, often set in an invented landscape, to create poetically evocative works.  The ruins of ancient Rome in both Ricci's Caprice View with Roman Ruins, c.1729, and Zuccarelli's pastoral scene Landscape with Classical Ruins, Cattle and Figures, c.1741–2, convey a sense of the irrevocable loss of a great age.

There was a major revival in printmaking in Venice in the 18th century, with many publishers recruiting established artists, such as Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and Antonio Visentini, to provide designs for their publications.

Joseph Smith was an enthusiastic print collector and one of the major supporters of contemporary printmaking in Venice. Smith financed and directed the Pasquali press, which contributed to the circulation of Enlightenment ideas, such as those of Isaac Newton, and imported banned foreign texts into Venice, including the work of Voltaire. 

Visentini was the chief draughtsman for the press, providing many hundreds of pen and ink drawings of initials and tailpieces, several of which will be on display in the exhibition.

Venice: An altar in the north transept of San Marco
 A reliquary in the north transept of San Marco
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
The crossing of San Marco, looking north
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
The Nave of San Marco looking East

Canaletto, The Mouth of the Grand Canal looking West towards the Carita, c.1729-30 (detail) from a set of 12 paintings of the Grand Canal.

Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
The central stretch of the Grand Canal
Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)
Capriccio with Roman Ruins
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
Capriccio View with Palladio's Design for the Rialto Bridge 
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
A reliquary in the north transept of San Marco
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
The crossing of San Marco, looking north
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
The Nave of San Marco looking East
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sotheby’s Old Master sales (4–5 July)

 Image result

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a bearded Venetian nobleman, bust length, Oil on oak panel, 60 by 48 .6 cm. Estimated in the region of £3 million

Unseen on the market for 60 years, this remarkable depiction of a Venetian Nobleman was almost certainly cherished by the artist who kept it until his death in 1640. A cquired by the great Dutch co llector Hans Wetzlar in the early 1950s , it has remained in the possession of his descendants ever since . One of only a few portraits by the artist to come on the market in recent years , it is estimated in the region of £3 million. 

George Gordon, Worldwide Co - Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department , said: 

“ Rubens is known as the “Prince of the painters” and his legacy is far reaching. His timeless modernity and immediacy is evident in this painting which encapsulates several strands of his creative, emotional and intellectual life. With its bravura brushwork which shows no hint of hesitancy, this is a portrait of a man as real to us as he was in the artist’s mind. Almost 400 years after being created , this is a painting that gives the viewer immense pleasure, and one in which we can feel Rubens’ own joy in creating it. ” 

The Master behind the Subject 

Painted in the 1620s, at the height of Rubens’ career, the work depicts an imposing and evidently po werful man in the prime of life fixing the viewer in his penetrating gaze. Although Rubens almost certainly based this study on a Venetian prototype, quite probably by Tintoretto, his subject is largely the product of his own immensely creative imagination . Far away from Tintoretto’s portrayals of men who almost seem to be wilfully obscure, the work is testament to Rubens’ idea of a forceful Italian nobleman, a Renaissance man who is accustomed to power and leadership. As in his best pictures , the Flemish Master has imbued this portrait with much of his own personality. While not a self - portrait, it is a study of a man in whom Rubens recognises himself – another successful man of his own times, and perhaps too, like Rubens, something of a polymath. 

Rubens’ Fascination for Italy 

Painter, designer , print - maker, sculptor, architect , diplomat, peace - treaty broker, at the helm of the largest studio of his time, Rubens was the first great artist - collector in Northern Europe and the fact that he almost certainly owned the present portrait until his death is testament to its importance. This work also reflects Rubens’ love of Italy, which once discovered, remained an essential part of his artistic and cultural influence. During his eight years in Italy, be tween 1600 and 1608, the artist, then in his twenties, worked for important patrons, including the Duke of Mantua. In Venice he found inspiration in the work of his predecessors Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. In Rome, the art of classical Antiquity made a great impression on him. He studied it avid ly, creating a number of drawings, which he would regularly go back to later in his career. In Rome, he also experienced the direct influence of his contemporary, Caravaggio. However closely he is identified with Flemish art, Rubens never ceased to be in part an Italian artist, as this exceptional portrait shows us. 

Works from the collection of Baron Willem van Dedem 

This summer, Sotheby’s will offer for sale a selection of works from the collection of esteemed connoisseur and benefactor, the late Baron Willem van Dedem (1929–2015), as part of its flagship Old Master sales (4–5 July). A testament to Baron van Dedem’s exceptional taste and eye for quality, the group of works to be offered features outstanding examples by leading Dutch and Flemish masters, including Balthasar van der Ast, Jacobus Vrel, Peter Paul Rubens and the brothers Jan Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger. 
 A successful businessman and a philanthropist, Baron van Dedem was a passionate collector and connoisseur of Dutch and Flemish Old Master painting. Visiting the Delft art fair for the first time in 1957, he made his first artistic purchase six years later, eventually assembling what would become one of the finest private collections of Dutch and Flemish 17th Century paintings in Europe of his time. Refined and improved over many years, the collection encompassed all the specialisms of Dutch and Flemish art, including history and genre painting, portraiture, still life, landscape and seascapes, offering a comprehensive overview of paintings from the Golden Age. 

Baron Frits van Dedem, the son of Willem van Dedem said, 
“ Since none of the family-members have the same intense passion and knowledge of collecting Old Masters, we trust the sale of these works will provide a chance for other discerning collectors to acquire beautiful works of art they will love and enjoy as much as our father did. At the same time we look forward to a vigorously competitive auction such as the ones in which he participated with great success and excitement! ” 

George Gordon, Sotheby’s Co-Chairman of Old Master Paintings Worldwide , said
“ This exceptional selection of works stands as a fitting testament to Willem van Dedem’s discernment as a collector. Though he was constantly surrounded by people from whom he could easily have relied on for advice, he was a man who determinedly followed his own path, always trusting his own eye and instincts when it came to making purchases — his choices based on a deep understanding of how artists in the Dutch and Flemish 17th Century thought and saw. ” 

As President of the Board of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) at Maastricht from 1997 until his death in 2015, Baron van Dedem played an active role in the art world and was well known as a generous benefactor. Committed to strengthening the holdings of Dutch public collections, he donated and bequeathed numerous masterpieces to major national institutions, namely the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and The National Gallery in London, in order to share his passion for 16th and 17th century painting as widely as possible. 

Works by David Teniers the Younger, Jan van Kessel the Elder and Adriaen Coorte gifted by the Baron to The National Gallery in London were recently put on public display. The Mauritshuis in The Hague earlier received a significant gift of paintings from Baron van Dedem, including still lifes by Pieter Claesz and Willem Kalf, landscapes by Frans Post and Salomon van Ruysdael, and a scene of dancing peasants by Roelant Savery. 

Emilie Gordenker, Director of The Mauritshuis , commented on his generous gift, “ This donation is one of the most significant ever made to the Mauritshuis. Every one of the five paintings is a masterpiece and an excellent addition to the museum’s collection. ” Johnny Van Haeften, Art Dealer , said
“ Working with Willem van Dedem was always a pleasure and a joy. His infectious enthusiasm and curiosity about his paintings, those that he wished to acquire, and those that were already in other private or public collections was a real outpouring of genuine passion. He could not get enough of Dutch and Flemish paintings, whether they be on display elsewhere, or generously sharing his collection with groups of collectors or museum curators from around the world. It gave him enormous pleasure to discuss Dutch and Flemish art in general and he was a collector of the old school: faultlessly charming, courteous and diligent, he was a connoisseur collector of the highest calibre.”

Emanuel de Witte
Interior of a gothic protestant church
oil on oak panel, uncradled
Gerard Terborch
Portrait of a man
oil on oak panel
Jan van de Velde III
Still life with oysters and smoking supplies
oil on oak panel
Image result 
Lucas van Valckenborch
An expansive landscape with a river valley and a rushing mountain stream
oil on beech panel
Image result 

Jan van Kessel II
Flowers in a basket on a partly draped table
oil on oak panel, single plank, uncradled

 File:Jan Breughel (II) & Hendrick van Balen (I) - An Allegory of the Elements, earth, air and water Diana and her Nymphs after the Chase.jpg

Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrick van Balen
Diana and her nymphs after the hunt
oil on oak panel
Image result 

Balthasar van der Ast
Flower still life in a glass beaker on a stone ledge
oil on copper
Jacobus Vrel
A cobbled street in a town with people conversing
oil on oak panel
File:Brueghel II, Pieter - Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery 1600.jpg 
Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery
oil on oak panel
Jan van Kessel and Gonzales Coques
Still life with flowers and Portrait of a man
oil on copper
H. Van Steenwijk the Younger
A palatial interior with a couple
oil on copper
Andries van Eertvelt
A four-masted ship flying the flag of Zeeland, another vessel beyond
oil on oak panel
Jan de Beijer
Amsterdam, the Nieuwe Kerk and the back of the Town Hall seen from the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
oil on panel
Image result 
Pieter Coecke van Aelst the Elder
A triptych: the Adoration of the Magi
oil on oak panel

 Image result

Gerrit Berckheyde
The Hague: view of the plaats and the buitenhof
oil on canvas
Image result 
The Goldweighers Field
etching and drypoint

 Image result

Peter Paul Rubens
Christ on the Cross
oil sketch on oak panel
Clara Peeters
Still life with flowers in a glass vase
oil on copper
Jacob Adriaensz. Backer
A kneeling woman
black and white chalk, grey wash, on grey-blue paper
Hans Bol
Summer and winter (pair)
a pair, both gouache heightened with gold, on vellum laid on panel
18th Century follower of Jan van der Heyden
A Cappriccio view of the Oude Delft and the Gemeenlandshuis
oil on oak panel

A selection of highlights from the sale will travel the world ahead of the sale in London on 4–5 July. Amsterdam: 2 – 3 May 2018 New York: 19 – 21 May 2018 Hong Kong: 25 – 28 May 2018 London: 30 June – 4 July 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Sotheby’s spring auction of American Art will be held in New York on 23 May 2018.

Sotheby’s spring auction of American Art will be held in New York on 23 May 2018. Led by 13worksby Norman Rockwell from all periods of the artist’s decades-long career, the sale features 120+ lots that are together estimated at more than $40million. The auction also includes exceptional example by Frederic Edwin Church, N.C. Wyeth, Milton Avery, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran– many of which are from distinguished private collections and are coming to auction for the very first time.


Leading the selection of works by Image result
Norman Rockwell is Blacksmith’s Boy –Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop), sold to benefit the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (below, estimate $7/10 million). Commissioned for a 1940 The Saturday Evening Post story by Edward W. O’Brien, this monumental painting– measuring nearly six feet across –illustrates a horseshoe-forging contest, which O’Brien captured from the point of view of the local blacksmith’s son: “I’ll never forget that last hour. And never, I imagine, will any of those who watched. Both men were lost to everything now but the swing from the forge to the anvil, the heels to be turned and the toes to be welded.” 

The drama of the competition is palpable as the two men captivate the growing crowd with their strength and skill. Working from photography and his own imagination, Rockwell exactingly depicts 23 figures in this impressive composition, including a self-portrait and two different representations of one of his favorite models, Harvey McKee –the undersheriff of the town of Arlington, Vermont. 

 'The Little Model #2' by Norman Rockwell Graphic Art on Wrapped Canvas

Another exceptional example by Norman Rockwell is The Little Model from 1919(estimate $1/1.5 million). A gift from the artist to his aunt that has remained in the family collection for nearly a century, the work was completed for the 29 March 1919 cover of Collier’s, making it one of Rockwell’s earliest images executed on commission for a prominent American publication. Rendered in the artist’s early style and technique, The Little Model brilliantly captures a young girl’s wistfulness and longing to transform into a beautiful adult, a detail highlighted when it appeared on Antiques Road Show in 2011.

 Image result

Rockwell’s Boy Playing Flute Surrounded by Animals (Springtime) is another major highlight of the auction, carrying an estimate of $1.5/2.5 million. Appearing on the 16 April 1927 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the painting captures the artist’s pivotal transition from his early aesthetic to his most iconic style; the white background evokes his earlier vignette-style format while the near-photographic likeness of the animated animals dancing around the young boy’s feet foreshadows his mature works. Spirited and cheerful, the painting comes to auction for the first time from the collection of Jack and Bonita Granville Wrather – he the producer of television series such as The Lone Ranger and Lassie, she the Hollywood actress who brought Nancy Drew to life. 

 Image result

Nearly forty years after the completion of Springtime comes Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party, one of Rockwell’s most recognizable images. Painted for the cover of the December 1964 issue of McCall’s, the work depicts a forlorn young girl looking from the top of the stairs at the merry cocktail party taking place downstairs that she cannot join. A gift from the artist and being offered for the first time, this beloved image will be presented with a pre-sale estimate of $1/1.5 million.


Image result

Also appearing at auction for the very first time is N.C. Wyeth’s Portrait of a Farmer (Pennsylvania Farmer) from 1943, which was formerly in the collection of the artist’s wife. Wyeth created this striking portrait by synthesizing his memories and experiences of his Pennsylvania home: the architectural elements are common to the Chadds Ford area,while the subject is based upon a local farmer whom Wyeth encountered carrying a pig under his arm.The artist discussed Portrait of a Farmer in a 21 January 1943 letter to his daughter Henriette, writing: “In spite of all, my present large panel of the squealing pig is vastly superior to anything to date.” In keeping with the true quality of this work, the painting will be offered this May with an estimate of $2.5/3.5 million. 


 Image result

Also sold to benefit the Berkshire Museum is Frederic Edwin Church’s Valley of Santa Isabel, New Granada (estimate $5/7 million). One of the finest panoramic landscapes of his oeuvre, this rare and extraordinary painting showcases Church’s incredible attention to naturalistic detail, romantic sentiment and unmatched ability to capture light. Completed in 1875 after he achieved broad critical and popular success with works such as 

 Heart of the Andes

Heart of the Andes 

Image result
 and The Icebergs

held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art respectively, the work is one of Church’s final paintings. 

Albert Bierstadt, another master of the Hudson Valley School, is represented this season with a 

Panoramic View of the Harbour at Nassau in the Bahamas

View of Nassau, The Bahamas (estimate $700/1,000,000). One of a small series of works inspired by his visits to this tropical paradise– a location also frequented by American artists including Louis Comfort Tiffany and Winslow Homer– in the mid-1870s and through the early 1890s, the work is distinguished by its impressive scale, vivid hues, saturated sunlight and attention to architectural detail.

A Showery Day, Grand Canyon by Thomas Moran is another significant landscape by a major 19thcentury artist presented in the May sale. The painting depicts the terracotta peaks of the canyon shrouded in silvery clouds, capturing the majesty of one of the Unites States’ greatest natural treasures. Offered by a private American collection with a pre-sale estimate of $800/1.2 million, the work last appeared at auction nearly twenty years ago at Sotheby’s New York. 


American modernism is highlighted by 

 Image result

Milton Avery’s spectacular The Seamstress (estimate $2/3 million). The vibrant work from 1944 captures the artist’s embrace of color as his primary expression of emotion. Last offered at auction in 1998, the painting belongs to a group of 17 works from The Collection of Patrick & Carlyn Duffy– Patrick Duffy who unforgettably portrayed Bobby Ewingon the hit show Dallas 40 years ago. Lovingly curated by the couple over 45 years, the works from their collection will be offered at Sotheby’s over three auctions this May and October, the last of which will be led by 

 Image result

Andrew Wyeth’s1964 watercolor The Bachelor. 


American realism is represented by two Edward Hopper drawings from the collection of Steve Martin. 


Study for ‘A Woman in the Sun’, a charcoal drawing executed in 1961, was the foundation for 


the painting of the same name in the collection of The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Estimated at $150/250,000, the work was purchased in 2005 along with  


Study for Summer Evening’, another preparatory study for 

 Image result

a major oil painting of the same title, which carries an estimate of $200/300,000.


The Western Art offerings this season are highlighted by works by Charles Marion Russell, Frederic Remington and Olaf Carl Seltzer from the Jack and Bonita Granville Wrather Collection. 


Russell’s When Guns were the Locks of the Treasure Box is a spectacular watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper that conveys the sense of excitement and adventure that the American West inspired (estimate $150/250,000). 


Frederic Remington’s Western Stage Managers is also a noteworthy addition from the Wrather Collection. A striking scene with a pre-sale estimate of $60/80,000, this work has been exhibited extensively across the Midwest, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Morgan Presents First Survey of Wayne Thiebaud Drawings

Nine Jelly Apples, 1964, watercolor and graphite.  Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of George Hopper Fitch, B.A.  1932.  Photography by Tony De Camillo, © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Nine Jelly Apples, 1964, watercolor and graphite. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of George Hopper Fitch, B.A. 1932. Photography by Tony De Camillo, © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Best known for his rich, colorful paintings of cakes, ice cream cones, and candy counters, California artist Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) has been an avid and prolific draftsman since he began his career as an illustrator and cartoonist. Featuring subjects that range from deli counters and solitary figures to dramatic views of San Francisco’s plunging streets, Thiebaud’s drawings endow the most common objects and everyday scenes with a sense of poetry and nostalgia.

Image result
Milkshake & Sandwiches by Wayne Thiebaud sold for over $1 million at Bonhams & Butterfields. Art © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
 Opening at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York on May 18, Wayne Thiebaud, Draftsman is the first exhibition to explore the full scope of the artist’s works on paper, including quick sketches, finished pastels, watercolors, and charcoal drawings. The earliest of the almost eighty-five works on view are cartoons from the 1940s, while the most recent feature landscape drawings inspired by the Sacramento River valley. The show will run through September 23.

 Image result
Wayne Thiebaud (1920-), Shelf of Pies, 1960, Private Collection © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photography by Graham S Haber 2017.

“The Morgan is delighted to present this groundbreaking exhibition,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the museum. “Understanding the importance of drawing in Wayne Thiebaud’s career is fundamental to understanding his art and his artistic development. Throughout the exhibition, Thiebaud’s ability to find inspiration in the prosaic and familiar is on vivid display. The Morgan is deeply grateful to the artist for his cooperation in the organization of the exhibition and for his generosity in agreeing to lend so many works to it.”

Image result
Wayne Thiebaud Cherry Tarts 1965-76

The exhibition will be installed in chronological order and divided into five sections:

I. Early Drawings

After studying at Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles in the late 1930s, Thiebaud began his career as a commercial draftsman, working as a cartoonist, designer, illustrator, sign painter, and advertising art director. The clarity and efficiency of advertising design became a major influence on his later work, as did the graphic stylization typical of cartoons and comics.

In the early 1950s, stimulated by his interest in art history, Thiebaud decided to become a painter. While teaching at Sacramento Junior College in 1956–57, he took a leave of absence to spend a year in New York. “I was very fascinated by people like de Kooning and Kline and went to New York expressly to try to meet them and hear what they were up to.” For a while Thiebaud adopted the gestural style of these Abstract Expressionist painters, as can be seen in the drawing of a Third Avenue store.

II. Foodstuff

During the 1950s, Thiebaud often drew shop windows and market stalls. At the end of the decade, he began zeroing in on the food on display: rows of pies, candy sticks, hamburgers. Combining a geometrical approach from his experience in advertising design with an attention to artificial lighting learned while working at Universal Studios in the 1940s, he created a new kind of imagery, which brought him instant fame when these works were first exhibited in New York in 1962. Working in different mediums, he has compared the process of moving from one technique to another to musical arrangements for different instruments, which preserve the form and melody of a piece while changing its timbre and texture.

Although some critics interpreted his subjects as social criticism, Thiebaud found poetry in “these fragments of actual experience” and acknowledged “some sort of American chauvinism” in his embrace of the everyday fare of diners and cafeterias. “These foods are only revolting to a gourmet,” he said, “others of us lap them up with considerable enjoyment.” His predilection for diners and cafeteria food led early critics to dub him “the truck driver’s dream” and “the Walt Whitman of the delicatessen.”

III. Tradition

During the 1970s, Thiebaud’s work began to show a greater engagement with tradition. He found inspiration in the old masters and in the art of Daumier, Degas, Bonnard, Morandi, and others. In his drawings he relied increasingly on techniques such as chiaroscuro, foreshortening, and hatching and cross-hatching. His figure drawings also changed, as he devoted more time to working from the model. This attachment to the past distinguishes Thiebaud from Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, to whom he has often been compared because of his fondness for depicting ordinary objects.

Thiebaud’s large charcoal still lifes of this period were made while he worked as a teacher at the University of California, Davis. After setting up objects in the classroom and assigning specific rules of composition, he would make his own drawing as a way of demonstration for his students. Though such a process reflects academic tradition, Thiebaud’s drawings also presented a modern sensibility with their empty center that conveys his admiration for Degas.

IV. Cityscapes and Landscapes

Thiebaud turned to the theme of cityscapes in the mid-1970s. Drawing played a major role in these works. “I’m not just interested in the pictorial aspects of the landscape—see a pretty place and try to paint it,” he states, “but in some way to manage it, manipulate it, or see what I can turn it into.” Attracted to the dramatic feeling generated by San Francisco’s plunging streets, he sought to replicate their dizzying effect. “I’ve never gone up and sketched from up high…it’s mostly just invented with perspective structures played around with to try to bring it together into some sort of cohesive character.”

Starting with quick sketches made from observation or memory, he then rearranged elements from these sketches into larger, more elaborate compositions, “erasing, smudging, and fussing around with form.” Adopting a similar method to depict the landscape of the Sacramento River valley, Thiebaud relied increasingly on his imagination to combine the flowing line of the meandering river and the repetitive patterns of the tilled fields into compositions that evoke vast jigsaw puzzles.

Image result

V. Sketches

Whether done as a daily exercise or to jot down ideas for paintings, Thiebaud’s sketches are an essential part of his activity as a draftsman and highlight the importance of drawing in his process. In compositional sketches, he worked out the size and placement of each element in relation to the others. At times he experimented with various light effects or vantage points. In many sheets, he used lines to frame different scenes, calling to mind the organization of a storyboard or the panels of a comic book.

Although some pages are devoted to a single theme such as ties, others feature studies of different subjects drawn side by side—for instance, a cake display next to a hat shop window. These sketches were made, Thiebaud says, “to find out something, to make notations, or just to experiment. You want to feel that these are things that will never be seen.”

Throughout his career, Thiebaud has made a rich variety of drawings to examine the relationship between medium and image, exploring what happens if one “transposes a thick, rich colorful painting into black and white in a sparse or less sensual medium.” From sketches to finished compositions, this exhibition illuminates the artist’s painstaking process and the evident pleasure he derives from the act of drawing.

The accompanying catalogue, Wayne Thiebaud, Draftsman, features 63 plates of works in the exhibition and 20 sketchbook pages. It also contains a foreword by director Colin B. Bailey, an essay by Isabelle Dervaux, and a conversation with Wayne Thiebaud.