SWEET GIFT: Artist Wayne Thiebaud gives 20 rare prints worth $860K to campus gallery

Wayne Thiebauds Cakes and Pie, a hand worked aquatint with pastel artwork, will also be used in a centennial poster.
Wayne Thiebauds Cakes and Pie, a hand worked aquatint with pastel artwork, will also be used in a centennial poster.

The Richard L. Nelson Gallery and Fine Arts Collection has received a gift of 20 Wayne Thiebaud hand-worked prints with an estimated value of $860,000. The prints are a gift from the artist and his wife, Betty Jean, in honor of the university's centennial.

With the acquisition of the new prints, the university now has 114 works in its permanent collection by Thiebaud, one of the most important and acclaimed modern American artists and a member of the UC Davis art department faculty since 1960.

'Invaluable resource'

"This wonderful gift adds immeasurably to the university's fine arts collection," said Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. "It will be an invaluable resource for teaching students in both art studio and art history. Imagine the excitement of being able to study such works of art in their original."

The gallery expects to mount a public exhibit of the newly acquired prints in January 2010. Photographs of the prints can be seen at www.ucdavis.edu/spotlight/1008/thiebauds_rare_gift_slideshow.

One of the prints, titled Cakes and Pies, will be featured as one of a series of limited edition posters celebrating the UC Davis centennial.

Among the 20 prints are etchings, aquatints, linocuts and lithographs created by Thiebaud between 1964 and 2008. The artist augmented each image, using colored pencil, graphite, watercolor or charcoal, to create one-of-a-kind works of art. Thiebaud is known for this technique, which allows an artist to revisit and rework a drawing or painting in a limitless process of search and discovery.

'A living thing'

The process enables him to forestall the "absolute resolution" of a work which can be "dangerously close to the art of taxidermy," he wrote in a 1992 book, Vision and Revision. In contrast, the potential to revisit and change a work allows him to relate to it as "a living thing."

The approach offers students an opportunity for special insight. "Students can be overwhelmed and intimidated when confronted by acclaimed and perfect masterpieces," said Renny Pritikin, director of the Nelson Gallery. "What is particularly important to Wayne is for students to be able to see, at first hand, works in progress, the obvious touch of the artist's hand in continuing to find ways to augment, change, and reinvent."

Thiebaud started out as a commercial artist in the 1930s. In the past eight decades, he has established himself as one of the most important and honored artists of his generation although he prefers to be called a simple "painter" rather than an artist.

President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 1994. He is an elected member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, an academician of the National Academy of Design and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a recipient of the National Arts Club's Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, the American Academy of Design's Lifetime Achievement Award for Art, and many other prestigious prizes, including four honorary degrees.

His works are on display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Art Institute and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions.

Thiebaud continues to teach occasional classes as an emeritus member of the UC Davis art department, and has advised the campus on plans for a proposed UC Davis Museum of Art to be built on land next to th Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

The newly acquired prints are the latest of many gifts to the university by Thiebaud and his family. In 1996, he gave 31 works on paper to the university's Fine Arts Collection, including rapidly executed sketchbook pages in pen and ink, exacting figure studies in pencil and charcoal, etchings of landscape reworked in pen and ink, and color and still-life studies in pastel, valued at more than $125,000.

Between 1971 and 1992, he gave the university more than 300 works by other artists, all from his private collection, including works by fellow UC Davis art professors Robert Arneson, Roy de Forest and Manuel Neri and by such other prominent artists as Franz Kline, Elaine de Kooning and Gregory Kondos.

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Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, cparker@ucdavis.edu

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