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Property from an Important Private West Coast Collection

Ocean Park #12

Ocean Park #12
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'RD 68' (lower right); signed, titled and dated again 'R. DIEBENKORN - 1968 OCEAN PARK #12' (on the reverse)
oil and charcoal on canvas
92 ½ x 80 in. (235 x 203.2 cm.)
Painted in 1968.
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1973
R. T. Buck Jr., “Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Paintings,” Art International, Summer 1978, no. 29.
Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, exh. cat., Newport Beach, Orange County Museum of Art, 2011, p. 68, pl. 12 (illustrated).
J. Livingston and A. Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Four, Catalogue Entries 3762-5197, New Haven and London, 2016, p. 79, no. 3948 (illustrated).
New York, Poindexter Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn, May 1968.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Matisse/Diebenkorn, October 2016-May 2017, pp. 126 and 148-149, pl. 90 (illustrated).
Further Details
“Here there is majesty, composure, and tension—all becoming visible only over time and with very close looking—it was decades of looking at Matisse’s work that resulted in his Ocean Park abstractions.” Katherine Rothkopf

Ocean Park #12 is an early example from Richard Diebenkorn’s last, great series of paintings which marks the triumphal embrace of abstraction. In the present work, figurative details have been almost completely abandoned in favor of muscular planes of color. However, far from being a monolithic canvas, the diaphanous washes of pigment that Diebenkorn uses to build up his surface becomes alive with the palpable sense of tension that exists between the two dominant forms of painterly expression: figuration and abstraction. The result of a lifelong interest in the paintings of Henri Matisse, with a work such as this Diebenkorn finally abandoned the last vestiges of figuration in his canvases in favor of these planes of color, resulting in one of the most unique forms of abstraction in twentieth-century art. Included in the seminal 2016 exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Ocean Park #12 thus unites two of the great masters of twentieth-century abstraction in a painting of supreme majesty and beauty.

Distinguished by its strong vertical panels of color, Ocean Park #12 advances the compression of pictorial space that Diebenkorn began in his earlier abstractions from the 1950s. In the right hand portion of the composition there are remnants of traditional perspective, as the pale blue geometric section offer up hints of a distant sky. Furthermore, by employing the juxtaposition of light and dark tones in the central form, Diebenkorn hints at a view through a window-like opening to the bare branches of a tree visible in the distance. Below this, along the lower edge of the picture plane, two delicate blooms are silhouetted against the dark ground. The rest of the composition is occupied by a more abstract arrangement of paler hued passages of color. These solid forms are bisected by strong diagonals that traverse the surface of the canvas, made up of black, purple, together with tones of warm tango pink, and dark sienna. The diaphanous nature of the washes of pigment which Diebenkorn used to build up his compositions allows his compositional process to be seen at first hand, as evidence of his previous layers emerge up through the various layers pushing their way to the surface.

In looking at these abstracted forms, the influence of Diebenkorn’s longtime hero, Henri Matisse, can clearly be seen. The American had been interested in the French master’s work since his early 20s when he visited the apartment of Sarah Stein, sister-in-law of Gertrude Stein, and saw firsthand examples of the work of the European Modernist masters such as Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse. Diebenkorn became fully enamored with Matisse’s work when, in 1952, he visited the last leg of a major Museum of Modern Art retrospective of the French artist’s work and viewed paintings such as The Red Studio (1911), The Blue Window (1913), and The Piano Lesson (1916), “It absolutely turned my head around,” the artist later recalled (R. Diebenkorn, quoted by J. Bishop, ‘Making Matisse His Own: Richard Diebenkorn’s Early Abstractions and Figurative Paintings,’ in J. Bishop & K. Rothkopf, Matisse/Diebenkorn, exh. cat. Baltimore Museum of Art, 2016, p. 19). He was struck by two paintings in particular, Goldfish and Palette (1914-15) and Interior at Nice (1919), as both possessed the qualities that Diebenkorn admired in the French artist’s work. He revered Matisse’s unique way of approaching a canvas, and how he managed to organized the interior space of his compositions. Diebenkorn felt this was something he could apply to his own work, as in the case of Ocean Park #12 where the structural integrity of the interior forms most clearly mirrors that of Matisse’s Goldfish and Palette.

In addition to the strong aesthetic connections that developed between Diebenkorn’s paintings and those of the Matisse, there are other parallels between the two artists’ work. These were the subject of a critically acclaimed retrospective—Matisse/Diebenkorn­­—organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2016, an exhibition which included the present work. Both artists were constantly innovating and pushing at the traditional conventions of composition during their lifetimes, and Diebenkorn was connected to Matisse through their shared approaches and techniques, “Both men had a deep love of color and structure and relied on a process of layering, scraping away, and adding paint to shape modern compositions that reflect their personal visions,” writes Rothkopf in the exhibition catalogue (K. Rothkopf, ‘Richard Diebenkorn and Matisse, from Russia to Ocean Park,’ in J. Bishop and K. Rothkopf, Matisse Diebenkorn, exh. cat. Baltimore Museum of Art, 2016, p. 117).

For both artists, a sense of place also played a major role in determining their style and the focus of their art. Whereas Matisse found inspiration in the unique light of the Côte d’Azur, in 1966 Diebenkorn moved to the Ocean Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, a major impetus in the development of this advanced form of abstract painting. His new environment, plus the light that poured through the large windows of his studio, helped the artist to develop a new vocabulary in his search for a different form of expression between figuration and abstraction. He filled the resulting grand canvases with clarity; their expansive fields overflow with minimizing contrasts; broad areas of pigment serenely shimmer. By finding his own unique path between abstraction and figuration, Diebenkorn developed an entirely new visual language, while retaining the traditions of both movements. In the process, he firmly established himself as a master of high modernism. The artist once commented that his Ocean Park pictures were always a constant struggle between two contrasting elements and that he was trying to achieve “a feeling of strength in reserve—tension beneath the calm” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in J. Livingston, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, p. 24).

Ocean Park #12 is an important painting that marks a pivotal point in the artist’s career, allowing Diebenkorn to take his rightful place in the canon of abstract painting that dates back to the nineteenth century. Through his encounters with the work Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, and Piet Mondrian, Diebenkorn witnessed the march towards abstraction—from Cezanne’s collapsing and juxtaposing foreground and background, to Matisse's organization of space within geometric scaffolds. However, Diebenkorn tempered the influence of European modernism with his fellow countrymen’s Abstract Expressionist zeal. He was especially inspired by Abstract Expressionism’s rhetoric about the process of creation, nonetheless from the beginning of his career Diebenkorn's work was always unquestionably his own—and, as can be seen in the present work, his masterful painterly touch and unrivalled use of color distinguishes him from peers and predecessors alike.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

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