“Each era produces its own still lifes…My interest in painting is traditional and modest in its aim. I hope that it may allow us to see ourselves looking at ourselves.”
A masterpiece of 1960s American Pop, Candy Counter is stunning example of Wayne Thiebaud’s signature and iconic confectionary masterpieces executed on an expansive scale. Lush, playful, and powerfully evocative, Candy Counter evinces Thiebaud’s celebrated practice of elevating images of American nostalgia, transforming the quotidian into the iconic through sumptuous imagery and color that evoke both mood and memory. Measuring 47 ½ by 36 ⅛ inches, Candy Counter is amongst the largest paintings Thiebaud produced of this subject matter in the first decade of his mature production; notably, the artist produced only 10 paintings featuring dessert or deli counter imagery of this scale in the 1960s, over half of which reside in permanent museum collections. Even within this rarefied suite, the present work stands out as amongst the most fully resolved and compelling in composition; furthermore, the sister painting, also titled Candy Counter, is already held in the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. With a luscious palette and masterful command of brushstroke and shadow, Candy Counter reimagines and reinvigorates its subject matter, emboldening its presence as a meditative reflection on American life and embodying an enduring tribute to the cultural consciousness of postwar America. A testament to its importance within Thiebaud’s oeuvre, Candy Counter has been included in numerous exhibitions and retrospectives of the artist’s oeuvre, notably Wayne Thiebaud in 1985-1986, the artist’s first major exhibition of his work during his lifetime which was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and travelled widely, and Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective in 2000-2001 organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and traveling. Candy Counter is further distinguished by its exceptional provenance, having been held in the collection of the Thiebaud family for many years before it’s sale through Paul Thiebaud Gallery to the present owner.
Expert Voices: Lisa Dennison on Wayne Thiebaud’s Candy Counter
Wayne Thiebaud’s Large-scale 1960s Deli and Dessert Paintings
“Most of the objects are fragments of actual experience. For instance, I would really think of the bakery counter, of the way the counter was lit, where the pies were placed, but I wanted just a piece of the experience…Those little vedute in fragmented circumstances were always poetic to me.”
In Candy Counter, a brightly illuminated scale atop the counter radiates warmth and casts a deep blue shadow, while slender-stemmed lollipops playfully mimic their upturned and glistening candy-apple counterparts below. In his signature manner, Thiebaud isolates the subject matter at hand and employs a slightly raised perspectival view–as if gazing through a pastry shop window–that lends the objects a quiet inner power. More than mere compositions, Thiebaud’s dessert and deli counter paintings are experiments in geometrical arrangement that challenge traditionally perceived notions of modern abstraction and classic representation.
With a heightened perspective, the objects in Candy Counter press forward against the picture plane as if yearning to be selected by the viewer. Ribbons of color move horizontally across the canvas, and the bands of complimentary colors edging the glass and candy create a flicker reminiscent of fluorescent lighting. Demonstrating an exceptional mastery of color, Thiebaud positions vibrant yellows, reds, pinks, and greens against large expanses of creamy white tinted with hints of yellow or blue. “My main interest is with contrasts of great intensity. This effect exemplifies the idea of starkness and glare that I am trying for” said the artist (Wayne Thiebaud in Rachel Teagle ed., Wayne Thiebaud: 1958-1968, 2018, p.150) Cobalt shadows accompany the objects, creating a juxtaposition of warm and cool tones that endow the composition with a pulsating energy.
Thiebaud references his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries by adopting the devices of perspective, repetition, and color theory that Noland and Diebenkorn explored.
The dense network of lines and colors in the shelves mirror Thebaud’s earlier paintings in the 1950s while foreshadowing his cityscapes in the 1970s and 1980s.
Thiebaud’s explorations of American life and careful attention to light and shadow are closely linked both stylistically and in subject to the work of Edward Hopper. Thiebaud aligns himself with Hopper not only through his innovation of shared nostalgia and the American psyche, but also through his deft usage of color and willingness to deviate from realism to impart atmosphere and emotion.
Thiebaud employs the same themes and composition as his earlier work Candy Counter (1962) which is notably housed in the Anderson Collection.
Thiebaud illustrates a new American iconography, deftly capturing a timeless testament and nostalgia for 1960s Americana. In particular, Candy Counter immediately and viscerally recalls scenes from a candy store in the 1960s.
Thiebaud invokes Warhol and Lichtenstein through the repetition and homage to quotidian icons that define the American experience.
"White, gooey, shiny, stick oil paint spread out on the top of a painted cake ‘becomes’ frosting. It is playing with a reality…making an illusion which grows out of an exploration of the propensities of materials.”
The sophisticated whimsy of Thiebaud’s realism is reflected not just in his choice of charming subjects but also in his meticulous renderings of them. The desserts in Candy Counter are fully modeled, the glossy coating of the candy apples palpable through layered strokes of painterly impasto. Thick paint models the outlines of the forms, with Thiebaud frosting the surface like a cake, and the rich materiality of Thiebaud’s application echoes the rippling of fudge or the shiny stickiness of caramel. Candy Counter reflects “an experiment with what happens when the relationship between paint and subject matter comes as close together as I can possibly get them… white, gooey, shiny, stick oil paint spread out on the top of a painted cake ‘becomes’ frosting. It is playing with a reality…making an illusion which grows out of an exploration of the propensities of materials” (Wayne Thiebaud in Rachel Teagle ed., Wayne Thiebaud: 1958-1968, 2018, p.150).
In Candy Counter, Thiebaud reinvents the traditional still-life genre to reflect the age of mass production and consumption, retaining a nuanced dialogue with art history while deftly capturing the spirited exuberance and prosperity of 1960s America. “Each era produces its own still lifes”, said the artist, “My interest in painting is traditional and modest in its aim. I hope that it may allow us to see ourselves looking at ourselves” (Wayne Thiebaud in Rachel Teagle ed., Wayne Thiebaud: 1958-1968, 2018, p.149) With this goal, Thiebaud paints items taken from window displays and store counters, mass-produced items from manufacturing concerns in America. “I looked at all the other things that I thought had been overlooked,” said the artist, “like rows of beautiful round suckers or candied apples or gum ball machines or all of the things which we use in displays in windows on tops of counters.” (Wayne Thiebaud quoted in Sarah Cascone, “‘Enjoy It When You Have It, But Don’t Have too Much’: Artist Wayne Thiebaud on How to Savor Cake While Staying Healthy at 100 Years Old” Artnet, 13 November 2020).
"I looked at all the other things that I thought had been overlooked,” said the artist, “like rows of beautiful round suckers or candied apples or gum ball machines or all of the things which we use in displays in windows on tops of counters.”
Candy Counter epitomizes Wayne Thiebaud’s career-long adoration for and exploration of confectionery items, deftly and tenderly capturing the zeitgeist of post-war America. Testament to the enduring impact and appeal of the artist’s oeuvre, so powerfully represented in the present work, Wayne Thiebaud is currently the focus of a landmark retrospective at the Fondation Beyeler in on view until May of 2023.This impact is nowhere evident than in the luscious painterly quality and powerful sense of nostalgia of Candy Counter, typifying the very best of Thiebaud’s artistic production and propelling the artist’s legacy as one of the great American master painters with an enduring cultural appeal.