A cityscape by Wayne Thiebaud that was commissioned for the bio-medical research organization the Gladstone Institute’s building in San Francisco will be sold at Christie’s on May 12th to fund dedicated programs in scientific training and mentoring. The triptych, City Views is estimated at $10 million, is one of the largest landscapes Thiebaud painted.
It took Theibaud about a year to paint the triptych. He finished it in 2004, well before the Gladstone Institute building was completed. The remaining six months the work sat in his studio allowed him to add whimsical details to the images.
The $10 million estimate immediately positions this work to be Thiebaud’s second highest public auction price. Bidding could push it above the $19.1 million paid for Four Pinball Machines from 1962 that is the current record holder. Generally, the market prefers Thiebaud’s work from the 1960s like the pinball machines or cakes, pies and candies that the artist is so identified with.
Although the popular imagination does equate Thiebaud with such ephemera, two of his top ten auction prices are for works that are landscapes. Winding River from 2002 (just two years before this work was created) sold for $9.8 million at Phillips last year. Another San Francisco street scene—Hill Street (Day City) from 1981— sold in 2014 for $4.8 million. Last year, City Downgrade from 2001, similar in size to the Hill Street at three to four feet tall, was sold at Sotheby’s for $3.77 million.
None of the prices above reflect Thiebaud’s recent death at 101 years old on Christmas Day of last year. The effects might not be immediate. But the artist’s demise will inevitably influence future prices for his work.
Whether that played into Gladstone’s decision to sell the triptych or not, Christie’s isn’t saying. But the auction house does have some words to describe the research organization and its goals: “Gladstone has disrupted the traditional research model to accelerate discovery and cure development. Their vision is to overcome unsolved diseases through transformative biomedical research, particularly in the areas of cardiovascular, viral, and immunological diseases as well as neurodegenerative disorders. Gladstone also seeks to mentor and train future generations of scientific innovators.”