Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
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The Collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

Berkeley #32

Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
Berkeley #32
signed and dated 'RD 55' (lower right)
oil on canvas
59 x 57 in. (149.9 x 144.8 cm.)
Painted in 1955.
Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills, circa 1958
Abe Adler, Valley Village, California, circa 1958
Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, circa 1960
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1960
“United States’ Delegation, IIIrd Biennial of São Paulo,” San Francisco Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 1, 1955, p. 44 (illustrated).
H. B. Chipp, “Art News from San Francisco: Pacific Coast Leaders,” Art News, vol. 55, no. 5, September 1956, p. 18 (illustrated).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976,” Members’ Calendar, August 1977, n.p.
G. J. Hazlitt, “Diebenkorn: The Painter’s Painter,” Hughes Airwest Sundancer, September 1977 (illustrated in color on the cover).
“L.A. Museum Views Diebenkorn Output,” Pasadena Star-News, 11 September 1977.
T. St. John, “Diebenkorn: A Retrospective Exhibition,” Art (Art Guild of the Oakland Museum Association), September-October 1977, p. 3.
B. Coffelt, “Doomsday in the Bright Sun,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, 16 October 1977, p. 22 (illustrated).
N. Marmer, “Richard Diebenkorn: Pacific Extensions,” Art in America, vol. 66, no. 1, January-February 1978, p. 96 (illustrated in color).
P. Selz, Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History, 1890-1980, New York, 1981, p. 414, pl. 1126 (illustrated).
T. Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980: An Illustrated History, Berkeley, 1985, p. 66, fig. 57 (illustrated in color).
G. Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1987, pp. 69 and 73-74 (illustrated in color).
T. Frick, “Richard Diebenkorn,” MOCA Contemporary, vol. 1, no. 6, August-September 1992, p. I.
K. Lynch, “A sense of place, with ocean view,” The Capital Times, 16 January 1998 (illustrated).
J. Tully, “Revisiting a Legend,” Art and Auction, October 2002, p. 144.
Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2013, pp. 71 and 107, pl. 28 (illustrated in color on the cover of the dust jacket and illustrated in color).
J. Livingston and A. Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Two, Catalogue Entries 1-1534, New Haven and London, 2016, pp. 575-576, no. 1473 (illustrated in color).
São Paulo, Pavilion of the Nations, Ibirapuera Park; Rio de Janeiro, Mesbla Department Store, U.S. Representation: III Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo; Pacific Coast Art, July-December 1955, no. 11.
San Francisco Museum of Art; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Dayton Art Institute; Cincinnati Art Museum; Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles County Museum, Pacific Coast Art: United States’ Representation at the Third Biennial of São Paulo, May 1956-June 1957, p. 22 (illustrated).
Pasadena Art Museum, Richard Diebenkorn, September-October 1960, no. 20 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art; New York, Jewish Museum; Newport Beach, Pavilion Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn, November 1964-April 1965, p. 20, no. 21.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Late Fifties at the Ferus, November-December 1968, no. 6.
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery; Los Angeles, James Corcoran Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: Early Abstract Works, 1948-1955, March-December 1975, n.p.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Cincinnati Art Museum; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Oakland Museum of California, Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976, November 1976-November 1977, pp. 66 and 110, no. 25 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Richard Diebenkorn, September 1992-January 1993, no. 55.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Richard Diebenkorn, October 1997-January 1999, pp. 43, 137 and 271, no. 84 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, October 2000-February 2001, pp. 169 and 292 (illustrated in color).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Ferus, September-October 2002, pp. 77 and 132 (illustrated in color).

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

With its rich tapestry of intertwining forms, Richard Diebenkorn’s Berkeley #32 is one of the finest examples of the expressive brushstrokes that define this important series of paintings. Packing the surface with a mix of visual elements, dexterous painted lines jostle with large areas of deep blue and rich red color, each tussling for attention. While refreshingly modern in its execution, the work is also a supreme example of the artist’s debt to those he considered the heroes of art history, in particular his beloved Matisse. Diebenkorn leaves areas of pentimenti intentionally visible and combines this with the aqueous fluidity of the paint application to give the painting a fresh yet subtle spontaneity. Describing this period, the critic Thomas Albright said, “Returning to strong, vivid colors—emphasizing tart, acidulous greens, hot, dry salmons and deep full-bodied blues—Diebenkorn built up rich, juicy paint surfaces. They were arranged in loose but well defined color planes, that plunged diagonally into space, setting up an acute ‘birds-eye’ perspective. The strongest of these paintings achieved an extraordinary balance between abstraction and dizzying panoramas of natural landscape” (T. Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, Berkeley, 1985, p. 65). Widely exhibited and cited in literature on the artist, Berkeley #32 stands as the pinnacle of one of the artist’s most important bodies of work.

Berkeley #32 follows in a long and honorable tradition of artists’ responses to landscapes of the American West. For generations of painters, the countryside of the U.S. interior has held a unique fascination and almost spiritual significance and inspired some of this country’s greatest painters. Yet Diebenkorn’s inherently modern response to the emotional pull of the American landscape is formed out of desire to build on the traditions of the past. His Abstract Expressionist inclinations demanded that he found a way of invoking a new vision of the topography that he so loved. His solution was to come after he took a plane journey from Albuquerque to San Francisco in 1951. The unique aerial view of the countryside this trip provided revealed the range of possibilities of this unusual way of looking at the landscape. He stated, “The aerial view showed me a rich variety of ways of treating a flat plane—like flattened mud or paint. Forms operating in shallow depth reveal a huge range of possibilities for the painter” (R. Diebenkorn quoted in G. Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 2001, p.43). This quality of flatness which so enthralled Diebenkorn is what makes Berkeley #32 such an exceptional example of this important series. The central portion, made up of a swath of patchwork colors, is almost entirely enclosed by two bands of solid color, one bright and one dark, that skillfully excludes all pretense of perception. By letting go of formal compositional elements Diebenkorn focuses attention on what, to him, is important—the careful application of paint on canvas.

The patchwork of expressive brushstrokes, crisscrossed with impulsive and meandering lines, define areas of an almost biomorphic quality which celebrate the fluid quality of the paint. True to his abstract expressionist roots, Diebenkorn is not interested in re-creating the awe-inspiring majesty of the pioneers of American landscape painters. Instead he is inspired to let the rich textures of the paint on the surface of the canvas create the sense of excitement and adventure that the landscape inspires. In her essay on Diebenkorn’s Berkeley paintings curator Emma Acker writes “…Diebenkorn’s palette becomes increasingly vibrant as the series progresses. The brilliant jewel tones of paintings such as… Berkeley #32… evoke the verdancy and luminosity of Northern California” (E. Acker, “A Sense of Place: Richard Diebenkorn and the Aerial View,” in T. A. Burgard, S. Nash & E. Acker (eds.), Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-1966, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2013, p. 71).

Diebenkorn began his Berkeley abstractions in 1953 after a peripatetic journey across the American countryside starting in Sausalito before continuing onto Albuquerque, Urbana and finally ending in Berkeley. His journey was as much an artistic exploration as a geographical one, and once he settled in California the artist was able to embark on a series of mature works. The resulting paintings, of which the present lot is a prime example, encapsulate many of the formal lexicons of his previous works but intertwines them with conceptual devices derived from the light, atmosphere and scenery of his new surroundings.

A sign of its importance, Berkeley #32 has been widely exhibited since it was painted in 1955, including representing the United States at the São Paolo Biennial that same year. Among other prestigious exhibitions of the artist’s work which have included the painting are a 1960 exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum entitled Richard Diebenkorn, a 1977 Albright-Knox Art Gallery survey Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976, which travelled to Whitechapel Gallery, London, and a Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition titled Richard Diebenkorn, which also traveled, in 1997-98. It has also been widely cited in literature, including being illustrated on the cover of the exhibition catalogue for the 2013 show Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-1996 organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and also in several major monographs on the artist by the art historian Gerald Nordland.
1955, the year Berkeley #32 was painted, was a pivotal time for the artist. He had solidified everything he had learned about abstract painting and was extending this knowledge in other directions and producing works of incredible maturity. Diebenkorn’s fellow artists had recognized that a powerful new force was being developed. The Bay Area artist, Manuel Neri later commented, “It was a type of painting we hadn’t seen on the West Coast before. Diebenkorn had a wildness—not the controlled wildness of Hassel Smith but an out-of-control feeling. Those were urgent times, wild times. He brought us a new language to talk in” (M. Neri quoted by J. Livingstone. ‘The Art of Richard Diebenkorn,’ The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1997, p. 43).

Although born on the West Coast, Diebenkorn’s early work is undoubtedly rooted in the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. But in addition to its fluid lines and planes of color, Berkeley #32 is the artist’s response to a wide range of artists who fired his imagination. Diebenkorn’s early encounters with the work of Paul Cezánne, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian were crucial in this development. The march towards abstraction that he witnessed from Cezánne’s collapse and juxtaposition of foreground and background, Matisse’s chromatic brilliance and organization of space within geometric scaffolds and Mondrian’s relentless, logical geometric reduction paved the course of his own non-objective works. Diebenkorn tempered the influence of European Modernism, being especially inspired by its rhetoric about the process of creation itself. Arshile Gorky’s linear biomorphic evocations against luminous chromatic background provided an early model that was followed by the agitated fragmentation of Willem de Kooning emotionally and erotically charged abstractions. Bearing the evidence of their gestation, this, along with their rough and buttery manner of paint application, had a profound consequence for Diebenkorn’s direction.

The crowning achievement of his early Abstract Expressionist works, the Berkeley series, soon became a byword for excitement and innovation. Although Diebenkorn was traveling a well-worn path, it is a testament to his skill that he was able to navigate a direction that was very much his own. His masterful painterly touch and unrivalled use of color distinguished himself from both his peers and his predecessors. The color, vivacity and energy of Berkeley #32 place it among the highlights of this important series.

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