Most everyone loves cake, but Wayne Thiebaud made a career out of painting them.
The world-renowned painter and professor emeritus of art at UC Davis recently donated an estimated $860,000 worth of his prints to the art department.
Thiebaud, 86, has taught art theory and painting classes at UC Davis since 1959.
The Sacramento native enhanced each of the 20 donated prints with pen, pastel or watercolor, making them “one of a kind,” said Nelson Gallery Collections Manager Robin Bernhard.
“It’s one of the most valuable donations that we’ve received,” Bernhard said.
Thiebaud’s collection will go on display in the Nelson Gallery in January 2010, said Renny Pritikin, director of the Nelson Art Gallery.
However, the works are available for public viewing now, Bernhard said.
Thiebaud is “widely considered to be one of the great American painters of the twentieth century,” Pritikin said.
The artist’s signature style is his images of cakes, pies and other desserts, which are done in a “very straight-forward, illustrational style,” Pritikin said.
Pritikin said Thiebaud is interested in everyday life, which reflects the humility in his work.
“He’s the least pretentious guy on earth. He just wants to make art about the real world,” Pritikin said.
Thiebaud, who calls himself a “painter,” told the UC Davis News Service that “you have to be careful about calling yourself an artist. That’s for posterity to decide. It’s better to say you’re in pursuit of a proud tradition. Your challenge is not to embarrass that tradition.“
“[Thiebaud’s paintings are] really as skillful as an artist gets in terms of getting what he’s after in the most direct means,” Pritikin said. “It looks almost easy but you know it has taken him a lifetime to get to this point.“
Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the humanities division of the College of Letters and Sciences, said Thiebaud’s gift will allow students to get an “up close and personal” view of his art. In addition, the gift is special because it shows his work over a range of time, Owens said.
Thiebaud has generously supported the university over the years, donating over 300 works by other artists between 1971 and 1992. He donated 31 works of executed sketchbook pages in pen and ink, exacting figure studies in pencil and charcoal, etchings of landscapes reworked in pen and ink and color and still-life studies in pastel to the university’s Fine Arts Collection in 1996, then valued at more than $125,000, according to a university press release.
UC Davis now has 114 of Thiebaud’s works in its permanent collection.
President Clinton awarded Thiebaud the National Medal of Arts in 1994 and former California Governor Gray Davis presented him with the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in 1991, according to a university press release.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.