Featured Work: Wayne Thiebaud, an Early Abstraction

By: Sarah Perdue

April 10, 2020

Wayne Thiebaud, “Gold Dredger” Sacramento, ca. 1958, watercolor on paper, signed and titled in pencil, image: 9 x 20.5 inches

This early watercolor by Wayne Thiebaud titled “Gold Dredger” Sacramento, was inspired by the numerous dredge machines that were present in the Sacramento River from the early 20th century on. A departure from Thiebaud's normal aesthetic, this work is heavily abstracted and features dark rich colors.

Wayne Thiebaud in front of his "Pies" painting at his Sacramento home in 1961. (Photograph by Betty Jean Thiebaud, courtesy of the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation.)

Wayne Thiebaud moved to Sacramento in 1942 to attend San Jose State College, before transferring to Sacramento State College. After graduating he became an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis. During a leave of absence in 1956-1957, he went to New York and met many of the abstract expressionists who were working there at the time. It is possibly the influence of these artists that inspired this abstraction upon his return to California in 1958. 1955 to 1965 was a pivotal time for Thiebaud his career, he was cultivating his famous style experimenting with painting pies, and candies. This work serves as an insight into his creative process at the time.

An example of a gold dredge in water.

Dredging is the operation of removing material from one part of the water environment and relocating it to another by a floating plant called a dredger. This was a cheaper and more effective way to sort through the river sediment to find gold. Sacramento is just an hour south of the Yuba Goldfields, the largest gold dredge in California.

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