This report on the Thiebaud market by Angelica Villa with data from our friends at Pi-eX is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
According to a new report from London-based art market data analysis firm, Pi-eX that collates artists’ market data across Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips from 2007-2019, California painter, Wayne Thiebaud—renowned for his glossy depictions of food and Americana—has reached a new market value and a new threshold.
When American collector Barney Ebsworth’s art went up for sale at Christie’s in 2018, there was an opportunity for Thiebaud’s early period Bakery Counter (believed to be valued at around $20 million to $25 million today) to bring a market defining moment with a single high caliber work. Unfortunately for the Thiebaud market, Ebsworth’s heirs chose not to sell the work. That hasn’t left the artist’s market bereft of activity as sales have accumulated charting a rise in value. All that was needed for a breakout moment was a major work to come up for sale.
Now that time has come. Christie’s recent announcement of a large-scale 1962 Thiebaud depicting five pinball machines carrying an estimate of $18 million to $25 million will come to auction during the highly anticipated ONE sale in July 10th.
The work has changed hands several times, having been in a private collection since its sale through Theibaud’s dealer Allan Stone, and later coming to auction at Christie’s New York in 1981 where it sold to real-estate mogul Donald Bren for just $143,000. Bren traded the work shortly after the sale to the current owner, Ken Siebel, with whom the work resided for the past four decades. Coinciding with Thiebaud recent market ascent at auction, the work’s value has increased by 12487.4% since its 1981 purchase.
Allan Stone influenced the Thiebaud private market for decades. In 2007 and 2011, during the Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales of Stone’s estate, major Thiebaud works came up for sale.
Number of Thiebaud Works Sold by Low Estimate Category
In the chart above, the volume of works sold at auction valued in the $1 million to $3 million range saw the highest peaks in 2007 and 2011 during of the Stone estate sales. 2013 was the first year that brought the Thiebaud record above the $5 million, making $6.325 million with the sale of Two Jackpots from 2005 and in November 2019 when Encased Cakes (2011) sold for $8.5 million in a Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale, surpassing an estimate of $6 million–$8 million.
The Pi-eX report also reveals that the total figure reached in 2019 came in at around $15 million, the second highest annual earnings after the result reached in 2011 (around 17 million). Noted elsewhere in the report, in more than a decade, just three Thiebauds between $4 million to $10 million came to market with guarantees.
A rarity of large-scale early works featuring the artist’s signature confection subject matter on the marketplace is a contributing factor to the the results. A burgeoning interest in Thiebaud among Asian collectors as the artist featured in Hong Kong sales across the top three auction houses in 2017 and 2019 indicates the artist’s reach has become more global.
Total Hammer Price vs. Low and High Estimate of Auctioned Thiebaud Works
The chart of evening sale overall estimates and hammer prices shows that despite Thiebaud’s works trending towards the low end of their estimated values from 2008-2017, by 2018 and 2019 the performance is placed more solidly. 2019 brought the price point for a Thiebaud work since its 2011 height, marking an upward trend since the lowest market point reached in 2017. In 2018, Thiebaud’s market still saw a high result for Three Candy Apples, which sold for $3.8 million in a Christie’s contemporary day sale (This is omitted from the Pi-eX data set, which only includes evening sales data.)
Average Hammer Price vs. Low and High Estimate of Auctioned Thiebaud Works
Above, the average price point achieved in the evening sales for Thiebaud has reached its highest figure in more than a decade, following its decline from 2012 to 2017. In 2018, it landed around $2.75 million, in the middle of the 2015 high and low estimate average, a year in which Thiebaud’s work failed to reach its low expectation. In 2019, the market saw the top average price achieved at $3.5 million, landing within the average estimated value range of around $3 million to $4 million.
Number of Thiebaud Works Auctioned by Performance Against Estimate
Thiebaud’s market volatility has also shifted in the past several years. Between 2007-2015, the percentage of works by Thiebaud that bought in at auction evening sales ranged between 10-30%. That trend changes from 2016 to 2019 with no works failing to sell, at around the same volume of works on offer in past years (with the exception of inflection points seen in 2007 and 2011 when the Stone estate sales brought a high number of works to the market).
The centenarian painter’s market momentum has been aided by Acquavella Galleries’ representation, and especially following his fall 2019 retrospective at the gallery dedicated to his mountain paintings series. In November 2019, another early lot titled Blueberry Custard from 1961 sold at Dallas-based Heritage auction for $3.2 million, opening a new avenue in the mid-tier auction sector for Thiebaud’s market. A signal market price like Four Pinball Machines coming to Christie’s in July is an example that can bring a bolstering affect to a wavering market for a coveted name-brand artist.