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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 20th century: Three Sandwiches
Three Sandwiches

Three Sandwiches
Wayne Thiebaud
oil on canvas
12 1/8 x 16 1/8 in. (30.8 x 40.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Woodward Foundation
"[I remember] seeing rows of pies or a tin of pie with a piece cut out of it and one piece sitting beside it. Those little vedúta [views] in fragmented circumstances were always poetic to me." Thiebaud, quoted in Arthur, Realists at Work, 1983

Wayne Thiebaud has created hundreds of images of food, from sandwiches and fish to lollipops, cakes, and gumball machines. He was inspired by "I Macchiaioli," a group of nineteenth-century Italian artists who built up thick layers of paint to heighten contrasts between light and shadow. Thiebaud took this idea further by applying the paint so that it evoked the physical substances in the image, such as soft sliced bread, creamy icing, or rich slabs of butter. The thick layers of paint and absence of any other details in this painting transform the familiar display into a surreal landscape that plays with our sense of scale. The packaging tells us the objects are sandwiches, but their shapes evoke huge, looming pyramids in the middle of a desert at twilight.

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