Mountain Split
Oil and acrylic on canvas
72 x 47.75 in (182.9 x 121.3 cm)

Wayne Thiebaud
B. 1920, Arizona, USA

“I have these vivid memories growing up in southern Utah, on a ranch. There was a big mountain, or what I thought was a big mountain, ‘Old Timber Top.’ It was a monolith, with stuff on top, and I always thought someday I’m gonna climb up there. Of course I never did. Then when I send people to see it, they say, ‘You mean that little hill…”
- Wayne Thiebaud

Wayne Thiebaud is one of the foremost figurative painters of his generation. He is best known for his still lifes of delectable desserts and utilitarian objects. Using varied perspectives and an often-layered array of bright colored paints, he composes rich tableaus that defy the decorative nature of subject. In the 1970s Thiebaud started to paint landscapes in earnest, and was inspired in large part by the compositions and textures of his contemporary and friend Richard Diebenkorn’s work.

Though he rose to prominence amidst the decline in popularity of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art, Thiebaud resists categorization. While similar to Pop Art in color and tone, his work emphasizes the whimsy and nostalgia of a bygone era. His paintings and drawings, by avoiding the hyper-commercialization of Pop Art staples, emphasize the detailed subjectivity of objects and their intimate role in forming complex lives and relationships.

In Mountain Split, Thiebaud employs his trademark vibrancy to portray the transcendentalism of nature and the solemnity of landscape. His dizzying approach of thick impasto significantly shifts the limits of observation within the natural and commercial worlds. Abstract and representational, alike, this work integrates experiential and memory material to depict man’s idea of mountains. When approaching the construction of the mountains Thiebaud says, “essentially there were sort of three characteristics or aspects that [I] wanted to focus on…One was the idea of humor: how [I] can find a seriousness in mountains — which can be as sublime an idea as anything — but then go all the way to a kind of silliness or ridiculousness…Another idea was the idea of position of mountains. We mostly see them — and almost have to see them — from afar, unless we are walking in them or hiking in them or driving in them. There is this tendency to see mountains pretty much in the distance and [I] just wondered what would happen if you tried to get them as close as possible.”[1]

Mountain Split is situated as a landmark piece from Thiebaud’s recent oeuvre. The mountain series, which originated in the early 2000s, is a re-examination of his early landscape work of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The painting is a masterful example of his experimental practice, challenging technique, and pioneering compositional strategy. Inherent to his practice is a sense of nostalgia and Americana, amplified in his landscapes, and this work, specifically, by a focus on his native home in the American West. Whether centered on landscapes and cityscapes or his famed cakes, candies, and deli cases, his praxis is both stylized and formal. Regardless of subject, his tactile images serve as intimate constructions of the quotidian.

Through an exaggerated use of scale and color, Thiebaud’s landscape upends traditional modes of seeing. Comprised of visible brushwork, a flattening of the visual plane, and textural intricacy, Mountain Split emphasizes the fantastical. Unlike his earlier landscapes which were completed en plein air, the mountain series is grounded in memory of the natural world, allowing the work to engage the viewer with the sensationalism and sublimity of the outdoors. Rather than focusing on the realism of nature itself, Thiebaud muses, “I’m trying to combine mountains I have seen with what I would like to see.” [2]

The contrast of magenta, orange, and ochre tones with the airy blue accents enhances the majesty of the scene and amplifies the works’ aerial perspective: “I was interested in what you could do with the space. A mountain painting should not allow you to apprehend it or overcome it. It should overcome you.”[3]

The mountain’s daunting scale and verticality, mirroring the geological strata of the Earth, centers the viewer’s experience within the landscape while simultaneously highlighting the divinity of the mountain range to synthesize the tenuous relationship between man and nature.

Wayne Thiebaud has been widely recognized for his achievements as an artist and has received various prestigious awards such as the National Medal of Arts from President William Clinton in 1994 and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design, NY, in 2001. He was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010 at the California Museum in Sacramento, CA. His work has been exhibited in major museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, the Morgan Library & Museum, NY, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA. His works are in permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, Crocker Art Museum, CA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.

Courtesy of Wayne Thiebaud Foundation

Fair Market Value: $4,500,000

  • 72 x 47.75 in(182.9 x 121.3 cm)
  • Artist Name:
  • Wayne Thiebaud
  • Medium:
  • Oil and acrylic on canvas
  • Circa:
  • 2011-17
  • Notes:
  • First photo: Image courtesy of The Wayne Thiebaud Foundation © Wayne Thiebaud. Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York [1] Seed, John. “Wayne Thiebaud: Memory Mountains.” The Huffington Post,, 7 Dec. 2017,
    [2] Thiebaud, interview with Aschheim and Daubert, June 22, 2011, p. 84.
    [3] Dalkey, Victoria. “Art Preview: Wayne Thiebaud’s ‘Memory Mountains’ in S.F.” Sacbee, The Sacramento Bee, www.sacbee. com/entertainment/living/article2580679.html.

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