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The Art of JAMA
September 10, 2014

Ponds and StreamsWayne Thiebaud

JAMA. 2014;312(10):984-985. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279713

The Sacramento River Delta, an intensively cultivated region of islands and waterways near the western coast of the United States, produces fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains for food and forage. Its swampy terrain was drained and converted to farmland with a system of channels and levees by Chinese laborers in the mid-19th century. The peat soil of the Delta has subsided so that much of it is below sea level and its shallow fields can be irrigated by flooding. Ponds and Streams, by the American artist Wayne Thiebaud (1920-  ), is an agricultural landscape inspired by this fertile region. The painting is remarkable for its shifting perspective, with multiple vanishing points and aerial views. A network of roads and levees parcels the landscape into furrowed patches, flooded tracts, and a bright retention pond. Tiny trucks and farm equipment provide a sense of scale. The changing direction of shadows made by the trees suggests that the sun is moving over the landscape. Each section of cropland is a color field—in the bright central area Thiebaud opposes complementary hues to create afterimages. The fuzzy haloes bordering the fields may represent mineral deposits from the saline water of the estuary. The bottom and top of the painting are darker, where Thiebaud has selected cooler colors in related hues.

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