Lasting taste: why life is still sweet for Wayne Thiebaud at 96

What’s on the menu? Wayne Thiebaud’s Clown Cones (detail), 2000
What’s on the menu? Wayne Thiebaud’s Clown Cones (detail), 2000

Over the course of a frustrating afternoon in 1961, Wayne Thiebaud visited every single gallery on Madison Avenue, New York, to try to sell his paintings. By then, he was in his early 40s, had recently become a professor of art at the University of California and counted such giants as Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning among his friends. But he had not yet made his own name as an artist.

The subjects of his pictures were cakes and fruit pies, sweets and ice cream. On that particular afternoon, however, nobody seemed hungry. “You are not Picasso,” one dealer told him. Outside the last gallery on the street, a despondent Thiebaud had stopped for a breather when a man emerged from a doorway and asked him what he was carrying. “Oh, they’re just rolls of paintings,” replied Thiebaud. “But you wouldn’t be interested in these. Nobody else is.”

The man turned out to be gallery owner Allan Stone....

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