Arts & Theater

Wayne Thiebaud donates major paintings to UC Davis

UC Davis is receiving a major art gift from a well-known painter Wayne Thiebaud, 95, who donated four piece of art to the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art on Monday June 27, 2016 in Davis, Calif.
UC Davis is receiving a major art gift from a well-known painter Wayne Thiebaud, 95, who donated four piece of art to the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art on Monday June 27, 2016 in Davis, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Wayne Thiebaud, the painter best known for his radiant California landscapes and still-life treatment of everyday objects including ice cream cones and cupcakes, has donated four major works to UC Davis’ Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art.

The paintings given to the still-under-construction museum include: “The Unfinished Portrait of Betty Jean” (not dated); “Yosemite” (1969-2010); “Grey City” (2000-2010); and “Three Treats” (1975-1976).

“The Unfinished Portrait of Betty Jean,” which features the painter’s late wife, has never been shown in public. Thiebaud said the portrait would help give students insight into his creative process of building a painting.

“It’s supposed to be a reminder to people that this is a teaching museum,” Thiebaud said Monday during a news conference at the museum. “That for me is paramount.”

Both “The Unfinished Portrait of Betty Jean” and “Grey City” will hang in the Paul LeBaron Thiebaud Collections Classroom in the museum’s gallery pavilion. The Thiebauds’ late son Paul was a prominent art dealer who operated galleries in the Bay Area.

“It’s such a deep joy to see this museum,” Thiebaud said.

Thiebaud, 95, has emerged as the lead donor to the Shrem with 72 contributions of his own work and 300 works from other artists.

The artist earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from California State University, Sacramento. He joined the art department at UC Davis in 1960 and retired in 1991. Thiebaud lives in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood and continues to make art.

Standing in the classroom named for his son, Thiebaud spoke about his time working as an UC Davis professor and the respect he had for his colleagues. “We argued a lot about how to go about (teaching), but the best thing was we were all friends,” he said. “It’s a wonderful community.”

The $30 million Shrem museum, set to open to the public Nov. 13, is looking to become “a primary repository of the former UC Davis professor’s work,” organizers said in a statement.

UC Davis art students on Monday shared excitement and pride over the new museum and donated art.

“We have such great facilities for sports and STEM and we didn’t really have anything like this with visual arts,” said design major Elisa Massenzio, 21, after the news conference. “It’s going to bring us to the forefront and show that we have art and design here.”

On Tuesday, Thiebaud is slated to become the inaugural recipient of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by acting Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter.

“Wayne Thiebaud is a true innovator,” Hexter said in a statement. “He constantly pushes himself as a painter, experimenting with brushstrokes, color, composition and sources of light. His lifetime of exploration has inspired us to see the world in different ways.”

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