FRAME|WORK: Ponds and Streams by Wayne Thiebaud

FRAME|WORK is a new weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week we feature a landscape painted by one of our marquee artists, Wayne Thiebaud.

Wayne Thiebaud, American, b. 1920
Ponds and Streams, 2001
Oil on canvas. 182.9 x 152.4 cm (72 x 60 in.)
Museum purchase, gift of Richard N. and Rhoda Goldman
2001.168

Best known for his luscious paintings of American consumer culture, including depictions of cakes, pies and candy, American artist Wayne Thiebaud began producing pastoral Sacramento Valley landscapes in the early 1960s before shifting to a series of San Francisco cityscapes in the late 1970s. In 1995 he turned his attention to the Sacramento River delta farm region, creating paintings that incorporate the high-keyed colors of his early still lifes as well as the flattened, surreal perspectives of his cityscapes.

An important example of Thiebaud's late farmscapes, Ponds and Streams depicts a patchwork of plowed fields and shimmering waterways from a bird’s-eye vantage, with a barely visible horizon. Poised between representation and abstraction, the painting is composed of carefully constructed geometries and nonrepresentational colors that recall the artificial pastels of the artist’s painted confections. The California landscape—traditionally a symbol of nature at its most pure and bountiful—is presented as a completely cultivated site sustained only through an extensive network of artificial irrigation systems and chemical fertilizers. It is fitting that this stunningly beautiful meditation on the California landscape is a gift to the Museums from Richard and Rhoda Goldman, who were lifelong advocates for the care and protection of the environment, and founders of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Through the extraordinary generosity of the Goldmans, Ponds and Streams joins four paintings and more than 300 works on paper in the Museums’ collection of works by Thiebaud.

Ponds and Streams is currently on display at the de Young in Gallery 15.