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Rare ‘pinball machine’ painting by Wayne Thiebaud may fetch $25 million at Christie’s auction next month

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A row of vintage pinball machines painted by California artist Wayne Thiebaud, who’s turning 100 in November, may fetch as much as $25 million at Christie’s next month.

The 1962 canvas—“Four Pinball Machines”—will be among the top lots of a relay-style auction on July 10. Even if the work sells at the low estimate of $18 million, that would be more than double Thiebaud’s auction record.

Thiebaud is known for his sumptuous depictions of cakes, ice cream cones, lollipops and other ordinary objects, which he turned into iconic Pop art images. “Four Pinball Machines”—curiously titled as it appears to depict five of them—hasn’t been seen in public since the artist’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art two decades ago.

Thiebaud-Four-Pinball-Machines-Full-Square
California artist Wayne Thiebaud’s “Four Pinball Machines” may fetch as much as $25 million at Christie’s next month.
COURTESY OF CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2020

It last appeared at auction in 1981, selling for $143,000 to Donald Bren, the billionaire chairman of Irvine Co., one of California’s largest private landowners, according to the provenance provided by Christie’s. In 1982 Bren sold the work to San Francisco investment manager Ken Siebel and his wife Judy.

“It’s certainly one of the very best investments,” said Siebel, the father-in-law of California Governor Gavin Newsom. The couple always had the painting prominently displayed in a living room or a dining room. “We saw it every day. We enjoyed it so much.”

He cited estate planning as a reason for the decision to sell.

In November, Thiebaud’s 2011 work “Encased Cakes” fetched $8.5 million, the artist’s auction record, at Sotheby’s.

The Siebels attended the 1981 auction at Christie’s with Thiebaud’s dealer, Allan Stone. But they refrained from bidding after Bren told them how much he wanted the work.

“After he bought it I told him, ‘if you ever decide to sell it, please let me know,”’ Siebel said. “Donald had a great art collection. I think he was buying a lot of things at that time.”

A year later, Siebel got a call from Stone, telling him that Bren was ready to sell.

“Maybe he found something else that he liked better,” he said. “We were certainly the beneficiaries of his decision.”

With assistance from Devon Pendleton.

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Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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