Distinctive Works by Wayne Thiebaud and Pierre Soulages Are the Focus of a Major Auction to Celebrate the Artists’ 100th Birthdays

The sale is being held by the Tajan auction house.

Wayne Thiebaud, Woman & Cosmetics (1964–66). Courtesy of Tajan Auction House.
Wayne Thiebaud, Woman & Cosmetics (1963–66). Courtesy of Tajan Auction House.

Pierre Soulages, the dedicated French abstractionist famed for his energetic black brushwork, could not have painted much more differently than Wayne Thiebaud, the American artist best known for his pastel-colored paintings of cakes and confections. Yet the artists, who rose to fame in the 1960s, will each be celebrating their 100th birthday in the coming months, which the French auction house Tajan is marking with a major sale.

In a timely comparison, the auction house will be offering a significant work by each artist—Soulages’s Peinture, 200 x 162 cm, 14 mars 1960 and Thiebaud’s Woman & Cosmetics (1963–66)—in its upcoming Contemporary art auction. Together these works embody deeply different artistic ideas developing during the 1960s. But as Rodica Seward, president of Tajan, surmised: “Each is one of the best works produced by the artists.”

Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 200 x 162 cm, 14 mars 1960. Courtesy of Tajan.

Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 200 x 162 cm, 14 mars 1960. Courtesy of Tajan.

Soulages was painting in France the same years the Abstract Expressionists were starting out in the United States,” Seward says. “He often earned comparisons to Franz Kline since he’d started working with these intense blacks in the ‘40s and ‘50s. In my opinion, those can be more rigid, but here he’s finally broken out with a total liberty of expression.”

In its monumental scale and in its few bold gestures, Peinture, 200 x 162 cm, 14 mars 1960 signaled the artist’s growing desire for his canvases to be legible at a glance. The painting comes to auction directly from the estate of one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, James Johnson Sweeney, who was director of painting and sculpture at MoMA from 1935 until 1946, then director of the Guggenheim from 1952 to 1960.

Sweeney purchased the work shortly after its creation for his family collection. According to art-world lore, MoMA director Alfred Barr apparently arrived at Soulages’s studio just after Sweeney, hoping to purchase the work for the museum, only to learn it had already been snapped up.

Wayne Thiebaud, Woman & Cosmetics (detail) (1963–66). Courtesy of Tajan Auction House.

Wayne Thiebaud, Woman & Cosmetics (detail) (1963–66). Courtesy of Tajan Auction House.

Thiebaud’s Woman & Cosmetics similarly (and unusually) comes to auction directly from its original owner, in this case the famed American gallerist Allan Stone. This enigmatic, almost Surrealist painting, is divided into two parts. On the top, a nude woman stares out absently, while on the lower portion of the canvas, there is an assortment of various cosmetics (a hand mirror, opened lipsticks, pots of ointment).

The work was made just one year after Thiebaud’s first solo exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery and is an exception in the artist’s oeuvre: while he most famously painted storefront displays of various confections and occasionally worked in figuration, Woman & Cosmetics is one of the rare instances of them coming into dialogue in one work.

“Though totally different in appearance, Thiebaud, like Soulages, is pioneering a new vision. Along with Alex Katz, Thiebaud was painting in the face of Abstract Expressionism and even Pop. Especially coming from the ’60s, this work is so exceptional. Here the figure has been totally depersonalized, so that the woman becomes almost abstract, a concept,” Seward says.

She likens the sale to a centenary celebration. “It’s a great honor to be trusted with each of these, directly from the original owners’ collections. There’s nothing like these, which is why I love them, and in fact, why they were kept for so long.” 

Tajan’s Contemporary Art auction will take place on November 27. 

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