Golden Cake

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Wayne Thiebaud

American, born 1920

Golden Cake, 1962

  • On View

Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Framed: 17 1/4 × 21 in. (43.8 × 53.3 cm)

Bequest of Mary Mallery Davis, 1990.26

Wayne Thiebaud is one of a number of artists to emerge in the 1960s after a start in commercial art--he worked for Walt Disney Studios and Universal-International Studios in Los Angeles before taking a position as layout director and cartoonist for Rexall Drug Company. In 1956, Thiebaud moved to New York City for a year, where he learned about Abstract Expressionism, spending time with artists such as Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Barnett Newman. These two seemingly contradictory elements--a commercial art background combined with an intellectual interest in abstraction--became the foundation for Thiebaud’s mature style. Golden Cake is a classic example of Thiebaud’s early still lifes, a single image set against a monochromatic or, at most, two-toned, background. The central image is read two ways--as a realistic depiction of cake and as a combination of the two geometric shapes, a circle and triangle, that form the building blocks of painting. The lighting is dramatic, almost spotlit, elevating this object of everyday life to a higher status (a technique perhaps drawn from Thiebaud’s high school years as a member of the lighting crew for plays). The paint has been applied in such a way that it shapes the cake but brings to mind the actual icing, a process Thiebaud refers to as “object transference,” where the paint literally takes on the appearance of the thing it is depicting.

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