Wayne Thiebaud could buy an avocado for less than a dollar in the late 1950s. But his 1962 still-life Avocado Salad, painted just a few years later, is estimated to ring up as much as $1.8 million on 28 September at Chicago-headquartered Hindman. So much for inflation falling back to earth in the grocery aisle.
“Everyone thinks of Thiebaud as a sweets and treats kind of guy, with cakes and candies and the like," says Zack Wirsum, director of post-war and contemporary art at Hindman. "We love him very much for that, but it's very exciting to see him approaching something on the savoury side, and a healthy option at that."
Avocado Salad is fresh to the market (yes, the puns abound here) from the collection of Morton and Estelle Sosland, Kansas City-based patrons of the arts who died in 2019 and 2021, respectively. The couple bought the painting directly from Allan Stone, Thiebaud’s first New York gallerist, no later than 1968, according to Hindman's specialists. It has remained with the family ever since, making the house's upcoming post-war and contemporary sale the first opportunity to acquire the painting since before the original moon landing.
“It has been held privately for 50-plus years. Maybe people are aware of the work, but you have not had the chance to see it in person, let alone own it. And that's exciting,” says Wirsum.
Although it is not known how much the Soslands paid for Avocado Salad, its $1.2m low estimate at Hindman is 1,600 times higher than its $750 insurance value when the painting was a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s art-lending service, a program through which museum members could rent works of art for a small fee between 1948 and 1982. It cost just $35 to borrow Avocado Salad for two months during the 1960s, or $52 for three months, according to records reviewed by Hindman staff.
Morton Sosland made his career as a publisher and editor, including for trade journals such as Milling & Baking News. The couple’s interest in food appears to have influenced their taste in works of art; other highlights from their collection being offered alongside Avocado Salad include a 1998 sculpture of a floating blueberry pie by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (est $150,000-$250,000) as well as a 1965 oil painting of oranges and eggs by American artist William H. Bailey (est $30,000-$50,000).
The Soslands were key patrons of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. After starting as a volunteer in the sales and rental department, Estelle Sosland eventually became the first woman to serve as the institution's chairman. She and her husband donated four larger-than-life sculptures of badminton shuttlecocks, also by Oldenburg and van Bruggen, that are now perennial favourites of visitors to the museum's sculpture park.
Thiebaud’s auction record stands at $19.1m (including fees), set in 2020 for Four Pinball Machines (1962), sold at Christie's New York. This past May, his sweet scene Candy Counter (1969), which was featured in the artist's Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective in 2020, sold for $12.5m ($14.7m with fees) against a $10m-$15m estimate at Sotheby’s New York.