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  Wayne Thiebaud Biography

Wayne Thiebaud Biography

born November 23, 1920

Wayne Thiebaud is an American painter whose most famous works are of cakes, pastries, toys and lipsticks. His last name is pronounced "Tee-bo." He is associated with the Pop art movement 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. He has also been seen, due to his true to life representations, as a predecessor to photorealism. 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.

Thiebaud was born to Mormon parents in Mesa, Arizona, U.S.A.. His family moved to Long Beach, California when he was six months old. Thiebaud spent over ten years working in New York and Hollywood as a cartoonist and advertisement designer. These stints were interrupted for four years, from 1942 to 1946, while Thiebaud served as a member of the United States Army Air Force. Wayne Thiebaud's formal art training was paid for by the G.I. Bill. He studied at San Jose State College and the California State University, Sacramento. He received a teaching appointment at Sacramento Junior College in 1951, while still in graduate school. He remained there for eight years after which he joined the University of California, Davis as an art professor, where he is a professor today. He currently (2007) teaches one class per year. His favorite food is cheese.

Wayne Thiebaud has said that Northern California was a pleasant change from Long Beach, and that Sacramento "almost seemed a Northeastern city. It had a train station and the leaves even changed colors with the seasons."

Thiebaud's first solo exhibition was at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, and between the years of 1954 and 1957, he produced eleven educational films for which he was awarded the Scholastic Art Prize in 1961. In the spring of 1962, Thiebaud exhibited for the first time at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York. This exhibition was followed by his first solo museum show - in San Francisco at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. Later that year he was included in the landmark group exhibition, New Realists, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York.

Today, Thiebaud's art dealer continues to be Allan Stone (1932-2006), the man who gave him his first "break" decades ago. The Allan Stone Gallery is currently located in New York City

Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of production line objects found in diners and cafeterias, such as pies and pastries. Many wonder if he spent time working in the food industry, and in fact he did. 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.

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 a great 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.

In addition to pastries, Thiebaud has painted landscapes, streetscapes, and popular characters such as Mickey Mouse. His recent paintings such as 'Sunset Streets' (1985) and 'Flatland River' (1997) are noted for their hyper realism, and are in some ways similar to Edward Hopper's work, who was fascinated with mundane scenes from everyday American life.

Thiebaud includes Giorgio Morandi as one of his inspirations. He also admires the work of Vermeer, Diego Velasquez, Degas and lots of other talented artists.

Select Timeline

  • 1920 - Born 15 November in Mesa, Arizona
  • 1936 - To 1937 - Works briefly in animation department of Walt Disney Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1948 - Participated in first major museum exhibition, Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity, Los Angeles County Museum
  • 1946 - 1949 - Work as layout designer and cartoonist in advertising department for Rexall Drug Copany, Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1949 - 1950 - Attends San Jose State College, San Jose, CA.
  • 1951 - First solo show. Influences on a Young Painter, E.B. Crocker Art Gallery , Sacramento, CA.
  • 1954 - Establishes company, Patrician Films, to produce educational art films.
  • 1956 - Meets Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Philip Pearlstein, Milton Resnick, and Harold Rosenberg, among others.
  • 1958 - Serves a guest instructor in printmaking, California School of Fine Arts.
  • 1960 - Appointed, Assistant Professor, Department of Art, University of California, Davis, CA
  • 1961 - Receives University of California Faculty Fellowship
  • 1962 - One person show in New York, Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Paintings, Allan Stone Gallery, New York.
  • 1963 - Begins long association with Kathan Brown of Crown Point Press, Oakland.
  • 1965 - Portfolio of etchings, Delights, published by Crown Point Press, Oakland, CA.
  • 1967 - Chosen to represent United States in the Sao Paulo Bienal, Brazil.
  • 1968 - Receives commission from Sports Illustrated to Paint Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, England.
  • 1971 - Theme of San Francisco cityscapes begun.
  • 1972 - Appointed thirty-first Faculty Research Lecturer, University of California, Davis, CA.
  • 1984 - Receives special recognition award from National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
  • 1985 - Elected to American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York.
  • 1986 - Elected as Associate of National Academy of Design, New York.
  • 1988 - Receives Honorary Doctorate Award from San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA.
  • 1988 - Elected as Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston, MA.
  • 1994 - Receives National Medal of Arts from President William Jefferson Clinton.
  • 1996 - Receives The Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from the National Arts Club, New York City.
  • 1996 - Receives Award of Excellence from the National Park Service for his illustrations in the 1995 edition of the book Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove: A Preliminary Report by Frederick Law Olmstead 1865
  • 2001 - Receives Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design, New York.

Select Exhibitions

  • 1970 - Recent Works by Wayne Thiebaud, E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento.
  • 1970 - Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Works, Allan Stone Gallery, New York.
  • 1972 - Wayne Thiebaud, Allan Stone, New York
  • 1972 - Wayne Thiebaud: Survey of Paintings 1950-72, The Art Museum and Galleries, California State University, Long Beach.
  • 1973 - Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings, Pastels, and Prints, John Berggruen Gallery, San Frncisco.
  • 1973 - Wayne Thiebaud, Paintings and Drawings 1958-1973, Portland Center for the Visual Arts, Oregon.
  • 1973 - Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Work, Allan Stone, New York.
  • 1974 - Thiebaud in Dakota, University Art Gallery, University of North Dekota, Grand Forks.
  • 1974 - Paintings and Graphics by Wayne Thiebaud, Genevieve and Donald Gilmore Art Center, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Michigan.
  • 1974 - Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Church Fine Arts Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno.
  • 1975 - Wayne Thiebaud, Edwin. A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University.
  • 1975 - Wayne Thiebaud: Prints, Drawings, Paintings, Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Travelled to: The Denver Art Museum.
  • 1976 - Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings and Works on Paper, Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Cruz.
  • 1976 - Wayne Thiebaud, Sallan Stone Gallery, New York.
  • 1977 - Wayne Thiebaud: Strictly Personal, Delphian Gallery, Sheridan, Oregon.
  • 1977 - Wayne Thiebaud: Drawings, Memorial Union Art Gallery, University of California, Davis.
  • 1977 - Wayne Thiebaud: Creations on Paper, Visual Arts Gallery, College of Saint Catherine, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
  • 1978 - Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper, Boise Gallery of Art, Idaho.
  • 1978 - Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Work, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
  • 1979 - Wayne Thiebaud: San Francisco Paintings, Allan Stone Gallery, New York.
  • 1980 - Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings, Pastels, and Prints, John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.
  • 1980 - Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings and Drawings, Charles Campbell Gallery, San Francisco.
  • 1980 - Wayne Thiebaud, Art Gallery, College of the Mainland, Texas City, Texas.
  • 1980 - Thiebaud, Allan Stone Gallery New York.
  • 1980 - Wayne Thiebaud, Van Staveren Fine Art, Sacramento.
  • 1980 - Wayne Thiebaud, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena.
  • 1981 - Prints and Paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, Marsh Gallery, University of Richmond, Virginia.
  • 1981 - Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis.
  • 1981 - Wayne Thiebaud: Prints, Gallery Hiro, Tokyo. Travelled to: Yoh Art Gallery, Osaka.
  • 1981 - Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Paintings, Allan Stone Gallery, New York.
  • 1981 - Thiebaud Graphics, Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington.
  • 1983 - Wayne Thiebaud: Landscapes and City Views, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento.
  • 1985 - Wayne Thiebaud, organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
  • 1987 - Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper from the Collection of the Artist, The Arts Club of Chicago.
  • 1988 - Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper 1947-1987, organised by the Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis.
  • 1988 - Thiebaud: Prints and Works on Paper, Rutgers Barclay Gallery, Santa Fe.
  • 1988 - Wayne Thiebaud, Allan Stone, New York.
  • 1988 - Wayne Thiebaud; Prints and other rarities, Charles Campbell Gallery, San Francisco.
  • 1989 - Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper, Mead Art Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts.
  • 1990 - Wayne Thiebaud: Prints and Hand Coloured Etchings, Karsten Schubert, Ltd., London
  • 1990 - Wayne Thiebaud: Sketchbook Selections, Rutgers Barclay Gallery, Santa Fe.
  • 1992 - Wayne Thiebaud Still- Lifes, Graystone, San Francisco.
  • 1993 - Wayne Thiebaud: Figure Drawings, Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco.
  • 1993 - The Prints of Wayne Thiebaud, The Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon State College, Ashland, Oregon.
  • 1993 - Wayne Thiebaud: Cityscapes, Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
  • 1995 - Wayne Thiebaud: Prints 1970-1984, A.P.Giannini Gallery, Bank of America World Headquarters, San Francisco, California.
  • 1995 - Wayne Thiebaud: Objects of Desire, John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California.
  • 1995 - Wayne Thiebaud: The Phsiology of Taste, 9 New Lithographs, Jim Kempner Fine Art, New York
  • 1996 - Wayne Thiebaud:Works on Paper, Pasadena City College Art Gallery, Pasadena, California.
  • 1996 - Thiebaud: Original Graphics 1971- 1996, Van Stavern Fine Art, Sacramento, California.
  • 1997 - Wayne Thiebaud, Allan Stone Gallery, New York, New York.
  • 1997 - Wayne Thiebaud: Intimate Prints, The Kempner Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Kansas City, MO.
  • 1997 - Wayne Thiebaud: Landscapes, Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, California.
  • 1998 - Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper Exhibition and Workshop, Armory Art Center, West Palm Beach, FL
  • 1998 - Works on Paper, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, MO.
  • 1999 - Simple Delights, Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, Laguna Beach, California.
  • 2001 - The Private Wayne Thiebaud, Phillsbury and Peters Fine Art, Dallas, Texas.
  • 2001 - The icing on the Cake: Selected Prints by Wayne Thiebaud, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
  • 2001 - Four Decades with the Allan Stone Gallery, Allan Stone, New York.

Select Artwork

  • Four Cakes, 1979
  • Millefeuilles, 1971
  • Sandwich Plate, 1967-1987
  • Donuts and Cupcakes, 2005
  • Candy Apples, 1981
  • Stick Candy, 1965
  • Antique Coin Machine, 1957
  • Large Sucker, 1970
  • Seven Dogs, 2006


  • "A conscious decision to eliminate certain details and include selective bits of personal experiences or perceptual nuances, gives the painting more of a multi-dimension than when it is done directly as a visual recording. This results in a kind of abstraction… and thus avoids the pitfalls of mere decoration."
  • "Art means something very rare, an extraordinary achievement."
  • "An artist needs the best studio instruction, the most rigorous demands, and the toughest criticism in order to tune up his sensibilities."
  • "Commonplace objects are constantly changing… The pies, for example, we now see, are not going to be around forever. We are merely used to the idea that things do not change."
  • "If I don't have anything better to do that day, I'll copy paintings, generally by people who have some relationship to the work of the moment."
  • "We all need critical confrontation of the fullest and most extreme kind that we can get. You can unnecessarily limit yourself by choosing your criticism"
  • "n artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom. It prepares an artist to choose his own limitations…"
  • "The figures… are not supposed to reveal anything… It's like seeing a stranger in some place like an air terminal for the first time. You look at him, you notice his shoes, his suit, the pin in his lapel, but you don't have any particular feeling about him."


  • Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective - by Steven A. Nash, Adam Gopnik, Wayne Thiebaud, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Thames & Hudson (June 2000)

Quick Facts

  • A painter of pop-art combined with a great respect for traditional methods and subject matter, Wayne Thiebaud is one of the most prominent of the Bay Area painters in California in the latter part of the 20th century. His reputation has spread far beyond his own state.
  • In his painting, he focuses on the commonplace in a way that suggests irony and objective distance from his subjects. He also makes a point of keeping an independent distance from the New York art scene.
  • He was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920. One summer during his high school years he apprenticed at the Walt Disney Studio. The next summer he studied at a Los Angeles trade school. He earned a degree from Sacramento State College in 1941. From 1938 to 1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in California and New York and served as an artist in the United States Army.
  • In 1950, at the age of thirty, he enrolled in Sacramento State where he earned a Master's Degree in 1952 and began teaching at Sacramento City College. In 1960, he became assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, where he remained through the 1970s and influenced numerous artist students. However, he did not have much following among Conceptualists because of his adherence to basically traditional disciplines, emphasis on hard work rather than creativity, and love of realism.
  • On a leave of absence, he spent time in New York City where he became friends with Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline and was much influenced by these abstractionists as well as 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 one-man show in San Francisco at the Museum of Art and in New York 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 him national recognition although he disclaimed being anything other than a painter of illusionistic form.
  • In 1963, he turned increasingly to figure painting, wooden and rigid with each detail sharply emphasized; in 1967 his work was shown at the Biennale Internationale
  • One of Thiebaud's successful students from Sacramento City College was renowned artist, Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) who went on to become a major influence in the direction of Indian art through his instruction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1964-1969).


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