Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)

Hot Dog and Mustard

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Hot Dog and Mustard
signed and dated 'Thiebaud 1961' (lower left); signed again and titled '"Hot dog and Mustard" Thiebaud' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 3 May 1993, lot 29
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1995
W. Thiebaud, Wayne Theibaud, New York, 2015, pp. 340-341 (illustrated).
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud, 1961.


Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak


Painted in 1961, Wayne Thiebaud’s Hot Dog and Mustard was exhibited in the artist’s first significant solo show which took place at the legendary Allan Stone Gallery in New York. Across this canvas, Thiebaud makes wonderful use of his instantly recognizable painterly language to celebrate the prosperity and plenitude of the mid-20th Century middle American cornucopia: the overflowing abundance of classic, All-American foods he observed in coffee shops, lunch counters, delicatessens, hot dog stands, and soda fountains. Hot Dog and Mustard is from the artist’s vital breakout phase dating from the early 1960s, when Thiebaud would first begin to explore his figurative work depicting items drawn from the artist’s own memories and experiences of everyday life (food, people, cityscapes, landscapes), realized in luscious oil paint, the subject matter a motif that expresses his signature style. As evident in the current work, Thiebaud was interested in realism, but a realism in dialogue with a vision that was highly personal in nature, drawing upon the artist's own memories and lived experiences.

The scene portrayed in Hot Dog and Mustard is a lunch counter. The subject is that quintessential, quick American lunch—the hot dog. There is a pot of mustard and a serving spoon. The perspective is almost aerial, the artist editing out every extraneous detail of the environment, the better to allow us to focus on the geometries of the elements that are presented to us—a play of circles, straight lines, diagonals. The background is white (a common choice for Thiebaud), but not an empty, blank white. Rather, it is one that is alive with luscious swirls, swipes, and layers of liquid paint, the white interspersed with shadings of blue, pink and yellow tonalities. Thiebaud handles color in such a way as to suggest light emanating from the surface of the canvas. By employing a strategy that places contrasting colors around the edges of objects, Thiebaud found a way to enhance the subjective impression his objects convey, thus imparting vitality rather than merely suggesting a copy of reality. Shadows, too, are actually areas of color, not empty black but in fact diversely-hued and textured spaces of light. As with all of Thiebaud’s mature works, the current work is both a view into a scene and at the same time a richly prepared painterly surface as well. “You sense a love of paint and surface. …There’s a real joy of painting, a joy of life in his work,” said Allan Stone, recalling his first impression upon seeing Thiebaud’s work” (A. Stone, quoted in K. Tsujimoto, Wayne Thiebaud, Seattle, 1985, pp. 36-37). Thiebaud’s work expresses an interest in the sort of formal concerns that would preoccupy a painter (questions of color, light, composition), but at the same time is quite joyful, not stuffy, solemn or academic in the slightest.

As did many Pop Artists (a movement with which he is often linked), Thiebaud had worked as a commercial artist, and this informed his choice of subject to an extent. But, unlike most Pop Art, which casts an ironic and sometimes critical or satirical eye on consumer culture, Thiebaud’s view is not at all jaundiced, but rather celebratory, appreciative, fond even, although often tinged with nostalgia, and perhaps some sadness. He felt too close to his subject to be detached. What might at first seem deadpan, in time reveals a subtle, quiet feeling that envelops the viewer. “Where Warhol was cool and ironic, Thiebaud was warm and gently comic, playing on a collective nostalgia just this side of sentimentality” (C. McGuigan, “Wayne Thiebaud is not a Pop Artist,” Smithsonian Magazine, February 2011).

A complex mixture of memory, desire and longing figure in Thiebaud’s paintings. A current of nostalgia and sense of transience runs through them. Thiebaud expresses a keen awareness that the things we own or live with are always changing or disappearing, lending poignancy. Thiebaud’s choice of materials and how he employed them—his hand—differed from most Pop artists, as well. It is the painterly quality, his love of what could be possible in working with oil, which distinguishes his work from the smooth, flat, brushless surfaces accomplished by Pop figures such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, or Tom Wesselmann. The current work captivates through its ability to contain and play with opposites, a quality so characteristic and delightful about Thiebaud’s art: the figurative in dialogue with the abstract; fluid brushwork in dialogue with geometric composition; the serious in dialogue with the humorous. The composition plays with harmony, balance and color, and celebrates the expressive possibilities of oil paint.

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