I’m thinking about Birthdays. Hmmm, I wonder why lol? But yeah, birthdays. Specifically, birthdays as represented in art. I wondered how many paintings I could find by famous artists that related, even tangentially, to birthday-related things, like cake and ice cream or balloons and presents. Not many as it turns out. The ones I found were the ones I thought of off the top of my head namely paintings by Wayne Thiebaud (1920-2021). And only a few of those are done in pastel.
So let’s have a look at three by Thiebaud.
First, there’s this one from the Art Institute of Chicago:
This is a typical example of Wayne Thiebaud’s work. He’s best known for his paintings and drawings of items you might find lined up in a diner or deli counter, all on offer – slices of pie, cakes, ice cream cones, and all sorts of candies. Certainly a different take on the genre of still life!
Thiebaud was a master of many art-making media and sometimes, it’s tricky to tell which is which. In this piece, and the examples below, you can see clearly how he utilizes the linear aspect of pastels, hatching colour over colour to give a rich, vibrant effect.
Here’s a closeup:
I also found this pastel of a single piece of pie at the San Francisco MOMA. It was done 23 years after the painting above. You can see how he’s refined his application of the pastel. There’s elegance and stateliness about it. Note too that it’s actually a larger painting than the paper that’s crammed with cakes and pies. Thiebaud has elevated this pie to kingly status!
And although this next one from the Crocker Art Museum isn’t birthday related, it does speak of summer and reminds me of childhood days. Mind you, that knife does add a frisson of danger not so associated with idyllic carefree days! I love the painterly and linear quality of this one – broad strokes in the background, thin linear scribbles on the end of the fruit, and a more smooth application on the watermelon skin. (And I love those occasional blue spots throughout!)
It’s not a pastel painting but it’s a birthday party!
Speaking of birthdays, I just had to include this painting by John Singer Sargent. It’s a favourite of mine. Reasons?
- It’s by Sargent and I pretty much love anything by this artist
- The reds!
- It’s unusual in the way the canvas is divided as if the “camera” slipped and got too much of the background (on the left) and not enough of the party table (to the right)
- The way Sargent still manages to entice us around the painting with compositional breadcrumbs such as the light sparkles on the far left, and those reds – look for the smaller splashes
- And then there’s the dark and barely indicated figure of the father – it begs the question why? (And yes, I’m sure there are answers if you google it! But it’s fun to imagine our own answers isn’t it?)
- The sparkle of glassware that’s so loosely painted yet immediately recognizable.
- There are lots more reasons but I’ll let you leave a comment to tell me what you see!
And that’s it for this time. If you know of any birthday-related art from the past, drop it in a comment on the blog! Let’s see how many we can collect!
PS. Have a look at this short video of Wayne Thiebaud about how he started doing cakes, pies, and ice cream cones. Clue: it started with shapes….