Like many artists of his generation, Wayne Thiebaud began his career as a commercial artist, including a short stint as a teen at Walt Disney Studios, before formally studying at San Jose State University. He came to Sacramento in the early 1950s for graduate study at (then) Sacramento State College and taught at Sacramento City College for nine years. In 1960, he joined the faculty of the art department at the University of California, Davis.
Thiebaud might have remained a beloved regional figure but for a 1956–57 teaching hiatus during which he worked on Madison Avenue in New York City. There he became acquainted with Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Philip Pearlstein, and other art luminaries. The turning point was a one-man exhibition at Allan Stone Gallery in 1962, which featured Thiebaud’s still lifes. This happened to be the moment the Pop Art movement captured the nation’s attention, and Thiebaud’s subjects were confectioners’ delights.
Thiebaud turned to the landscape during the 1960s and, by the 1980s, was highly regarded for his vertiginous interpretations of the San Francisco cityscape. A profound response to the Sacramento landscape, with its broad river bends and flat but colorful plains, runs throughout Thiebaud’s production, resulting in a substantial body of works on paper and luscious oils, that establish an intimate record of the artist’s engagement with place.