Lot 6
  • 6

Wayne Thiebaud

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
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  • Wayne Thiebaud
  • Hill Street (Day City)
  • signed and dated 1981; signed and dated 1981 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 48 x 36 1/8 in. 121.9 x 91.7 cm.


Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hedreen, Seattle
Acquired by the present owner from the above


San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Newport Beach, Newport Harbor Art Museum; Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Museum; Columbus, Columbus Museum of Art; Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Wayne Thiebaud, September 1985 - November 1986, cat. no. 71, pl. 73, p. 150, illustrated in color
San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, June 2000 - September 2001, cat. no. 73, p. 145, illustrated in color


This work is in excellent condition. There is evidence of airborne dust to the tips of the heaviest areas of impasto. Under ultraviolet light there are no apparent restorations. The canvas is framed in a wood strip frame with silver gilt facing with a strip float, painted black.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In the late 1990s, Thiebaud’s landscapes and cityscapes predominate, joining his storied lexicon of pies, gumball machines, toys, and lipsticks, all subjects purloined from his daily life and executed in a realist and formalist style of equal parts discipline and decadence. Hill Street (Day City) is a magnificent testament to the arrival of this important genre and stands at the very apex of Thiebaud’s tribute to his California surroundings, rendered in a heightened foreshortening that echoes modernist spatial abstractions which span the Twentieth Century.  From the work of Cézanne and Matisse through to his contemporary and fellow West Coast luminary, Richard Diebenkorn, Thiebaud set himself the challenge of merging spatial illusion with the sheer beauty, tactility, and physical presence of his painterly surface.  Included in the critical travelling retrospectives of Thiebaud’s work organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1985-1986 and again in 2000-2001, Hill Street (Day City) thrills the eye, humming with chromatic vibrancy and infused with the clarity of light indigenous to his West Coast environs.  Thiebaud spectacularly expressed his affinity for the luscious density and malleability of oil paint as a co-existent subject of his work, and the details and features of Hill Street (Day City)are contoured in precise but abundant dollops of brilliantly hued pigment; just as the paint is depicting the illusion of a physical object or place, it is a physical presence itself, embodying and becoming the thing depicted.

Hill Street (Day City) is aptly titled as a prime exemplar of the precipitous terrain of Thiebaud’s San Francisco environs and the luminosity of the Pacific light of the Bay area, paralleling the other great series of California cityscapes, Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings. Aside from one sojourn in New York City in the 1950s, Thiebaud lived and worked in the Golden State, and observed firsthand the profound changes in post-war California, with its explosive urban growth and expanding automotive culture. His grasp of the vernacular of his surroundings informed the complex composition and spatial design of Hill Street (Day City). Balancing representation with abstraction, seriousness and wit, touch and control, Thiebaud painted urban scenes as aesthetic fantasies, almost surreal in their effect. The improbable geometry of the vertiginous streets and hills of the present work, bathed in a luminous glow, was the perfect forum in which to explore the opposing tensions between modern abstraction and classic representation. Initially working directly in the streets and intersections, Thiebaud experienced a breakthrough when he instead moved back into the studio to work with various series of drawings to meld different viewpoints into a cohesive whole. As he described in an interview in 2011, “I was trying to get the feeling of equilibrium and disequilibrium, because you feel that in, I think, San Francisco. It's hard to imagine how those cars can stay on the street, or buildings can suddenly thrust themselves up on a kind of... what seems to be an earth mound. It just makes you feel, ‘This can't work.’ …. What you have to do with a painting is to enliven it with your body, to feel its tensions, to feel its dislocation or to feel its comfort. "Gee, this feels really stable," for instance. On the other hand, if it's a little too stable it can die on you. So it's a wonderful tightrope walk.”  (the artist cited in an interview with the Academy of Achievement, May 27, 2011) Thiebaud went on to acknowledge the illustrious company he joined not only in the perspectival inventions of Richard Diebenkorn but in the influence of Chinese painting and modernist masters; asked to define his theories on “integrating several projective systems into one”, as witnessed in his San Francisco street scenes, he elaborated: A single point perspective, where you look at a railroad track, that's one system…. Cezanne's paintings have eight or nine perspectives, various views of the same still life viewed from several angles and trying to incorporate that into one. Chinese perspective – which is the opposite of one-point perspective – where instead of the railroad tracks vanishing, they're coming into you. And to orchestrate those into one entity is a wonderful challenge and a great treat to fool around with… but wonderfully exciting.” (Ibid.)

Similar to Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings, Thiebaud’s cityscapes are networks of faceted, interlocking planes of light and color, which convincingly portray the dramatic vantage points and pitched perspectives of San Francisco, while verging on pure abstraction through the collapse of spatial depth and simplification of form. The subtle manipulation that lies at the core of the avant-garde abstractions of both Thiebaud and Diebenkorn is their love of light and an ineffable genius for capturing it in oil. In discussing the influence of Diebenkorn’s work on his own painting, Thiebaud noted their kinship in the “spectral relationship” of light in their work, which in turn was inspired by their shared interest in their forebears. His eloquent statement on this subject could describe either artist’s chromatic gifts: “What fascinates me is what you can do about the light – creating light – in painting. I get my impetus from that. Not from light, oddly enough, but from the tradition of painting. Particularly in Bonnard, Matisse, German expressionists, Indian miniature painting, Chinese painting where the light is created by the interaction of colors, value, hue, and intensity.” (Ibid.)

With an independence that was stubborn despite Thiebaud’s apparently laconic personality, the painter maintained a remarkable consistency in his focus on the everyday surroundings of his life, and forged his own path as a painter who reinvented the traditional practices of still life, landscape, and figurative painting. His acute sensibility for color and textural surface packs a visual punch in Hill Street (Day City) fully testifying to his dealer Allan Stone’s tribute to his first encounter with his friend’s storied corpus of pies and cakes: “There was a kind of insistence and integrity about them that was indescribable…His work is about celebrating the joy of living. I always feel uplifted when I see his work.” (as interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning, May 10, 2008)