Wayne Thiebaud (American, born 1920) Chocolate Éclair, 2002

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Lot 40
Wayne Thiebaud
(American, born 1920)
Chocolate Éclair, 2002

Sold for US$ 500,000 inc. premium
Wayne Thiebaud (American, born 1920)
Chocolate Éclair, 2002

signed and dated 'Thiebaud 02' (lower right); signed, titled and dated '"CHOCOLATE ECLAIR" Thiebaud 2002' (on the reverse)
oil on wood

9 1/2 x 12 5/8 in.
24.1 x 32.1 cm.


  • Provenance
    Paul Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner circa 2005

    Wayne Thiebaud's Chocolate Éclair (2002) is a quintessential example of the artist's now iconic paintings. Residing in an important private collection in Santa Fe since its purchase from Paul Thiebaud Gallery in 2005, this extraordinary painting is on public view for the first time in over a decade.

    In the present work, a single, tantalizingly perfect chocolate éclair sits in the center of the composition as if inviting the viewer to take the first, luxurious bite. Thick chocolate ganache is finished with a single glistening maraschino cherry whilst layers of whipped cream are glimpsed from within the éclair's inviting choux pastry. Thiebaud's rendering is simple, beguilingly virtuosic, placing the éclair a top a minimal, almost abstract background. The éclair sits slightly askew, tilted up toward the viewer and though seemingly flat, its dense, deep shadow indicates the delicious heights of its many layers. The simple geometry of the background matches the precision of the pastry – a finish that would be painstaking for a pastry chef and artist alike. The placement and positioning in turn give a slightly distorted sense, as if the viewer (or in this case the consumer) is peering over a pastry case as a diner selecting the final, remaining éclair as a special treat.

    Cool hints of blue and yellow glow out of the present work, imbuing a halo around the éclair and instilling the work with a cool and clean palette. This work, like much of Thiebaud's oeuvre employs a palette and depiction of light that is distinctly Californian, indicating the influence of the state where he has lived and worked for much of his life. Influenced by Paul Cezanne's radical flattening of space as well as the Fauvists generations before him, the palette never seems out of place and seems to further elevate the subject beyond that of a mere dessert. These flashes of color combine with the artist's working of paint, almost as if it were ganache, frosting or fondant to create something beyond the depiction of a dessert, something slightly surreal, and pleasantly whimsical.

    Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona in 1920. Beginning his career as an illustrator, he briefly worked at the Walt Disney Studios before serving in the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Air Force. It was after the war, and after his childhood in the depths of the Great Depression, that Thiebaud began to depict food, capturing the sweet confectionary products that suddenly became prevalent and readily available. Cakes and pastries were now much easier to produce, with previously scare ingredients available in droves. Cake mix and pre-made cakes made complex confections more attainable to make (or buy), making a meticulous, highly decorated cakes a new staple, almost a fact, of middle-class American life. In this context, Thiebaud's works adopt a sense of nostalgia, capturing a distinct feeling of Americana.

    Thiebaud began to paint and capture his subjects in the late 1950s and in doing so pre-dated and influenced the Pop Art movement that would grow in the following decade. He was included in the exhibition New Paintings of Common Objects in 1962 at the then Pasadena Art Museum (now Norton Simon Museum). This exhibition, which included fellow luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Ruscha and others, would signal a distinct change in American art. Thiebaud's palette, subject matter and style would see him associated with Pop Art, seen almost as the godfather of the movement, yet Thiebaud believes himself to be distinct from it with his works lacking the subversive irony of his peers.

    Patisserie, such as this éclair, is the most iconic and immediately recognizable of Thiebaud's subjects. He captured birthday cakes, donuts, and pies among many other delectable delicacies. Thiebaud's works are included in the permanent collections of major museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tate Collection, London amongst many others. In 2018, Thiebaud was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Morgan Museum and Library in New York.
Wayne Thiebaud (American, born 1920) Chocolate Éclair, 2002
Wayne Thiebaud (American, born 1920) Chocolate Éclair, 2002
Wayne Thiebaud (American, born 1920) Chocolate Éclair, 2002
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