Skip to content
New Criterion

The advent of summer can be particularly sweet when it comes with a helping of Wayne Thiebaud (1920–2021). The late grand-manner painter of American Century marginalia remains on view at Acquavella Galleries through mid-June with an exhibition that focuses on his warmest creations. “Wayne Thiebaud: Summer Days” gathers works from over six decades of the artist’s career, ranging from his bathers, beaches, and balls to his cola, confections, and cones.

Painted with a sugary impasto, this masterly work can seem fresh and ready to melt in the summer sun. Thiebaud was the American Giorgio Morandi for his uncanny ability to transform paint into the subjects he depicted. In part this is due to the halation effects along his edges, as shadows are broken into lines and fields of blue and red that become delicate frosting for his forms, as seen in such works as "Strawberry Cone" (1969) and "Two Tulip Sundaes" (2010) and even such portraits as "Betty Jean" (ca. 1965). Thiebaud was particularly attuned to the textures of his media. His thirst-quenching "Untitled (Six Soda Pop Bottles)" (ca. 1985) would only work as a watercolor on paper. His "Cheese Display"(1969) feels milky-smooth, while his "Beach Gathering" (2000–15) appears encrusted with sand. Due to this innate sense for intimism, I find his portraits and still lifes work better than his landscapes. Thiebaud was at his best when subject and painting could melt into one.