It’s difficult to pigeon-hole Wayne Thiebaud. This now 97-year-old (and still working) American artist is usually linked with Pop Art although his paintings of mundane everyday objects associated with that school predate the movement by a year or two and his technique is more painterly than the often clean-cut illustration style of, say, Warhol or Lichtenstein.
The main source of Thiebaud’s inspiration, one might even say, salivating obsession, is food. Not good, healthy wholesome food but cakes, ice-cream and pre-MacDonalds American fast-food – the ubiquitous hot-dog. His breakthrough picture was the 1961 Pies, Pies, Pies, a boldly painted still-life of triangular slices of pies on plates.
Despite the bright, even gaudy colours there is a certain blandness and stillness to this and much of other work which immediately put me in mind of Giorgio Morandi. To me, the relationship between Thiebaud’s simple, in-a-row still-life compositions of boldly, even crudely, painted objects and those of the Italian painter was difficult to ignore.
I was also reminded of Mondriaan-like Battenburg cakes whose origins seem to date back to the 1890s and therefore could have influenced the Dutch artist as well as the American – although I doubt it.
But Thiebaud was also a master of painting people and the numerous single and group portraits share the same bland matter-of-factness which belies the skill and confidence with which he applies the paint. Take a close look at the way he paints men’s shoes, for example and the painting of two paint cans. It was a pity that none of his drawings were on show which demonstrate more clearly his consummate virtuosity.
Although since the early sixties Thiebaud’s main theme has been lurid confectionery, there was the odd tangent which is demonstrated in this show by the room full of bold, colourful urban landscapes, starting from around the year 2000.
This is a major retrospective by an important, though perhaps not widely known, American artist. Michael Hasted 5th July 2018
In an adjoining gallery there is another excellent show entitled Stage of Being, a mixed exhibition of how artists have depicted human instinct and emotions. The forty-five works include pieces by Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Hans Bellmer and many other top names. Some top-class work here which it would be a pity to miss.
This was our first visit to the Museum Voorlinden, north of The Hague, and very impressive and satisfying it was too. The purpose-built gallery stands in the extensive grounds of a grand 1912 English-style mansion surrounded by lakes, forests and dunes. The whole thing is privately owned by Joop van Caldenborgh and the gallery was opened on 10th September 2016 by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. Not only are you able to see world-class modern art in a new, world-class modern gallery but you can also stroll in the grounds and relax on the terrace of the house with a coffee or glass of wine or have a meal in the oak-panelled restaurant. The sun was shining for our visit but this would make a wonderful day out whatever the weather.