Elmer Nelson Bischoff (1916-1991)
Property from a Distinguished West Coast Collection
Elmer Nelson Bischoff (1916-1991)

Man and Lavender Sky

Elmer Nelson Bischoff (1916-1991)
Man and Lavender Sky
signed and dated '56 Elmer Bischoff' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
47½ x 59¾ in. (120.6 x 151.7 cm.)
Painted in 1956-1958.
Staempfli Gallery, New York
Heritage Gallery, Los Angeles
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1986
S. Landauer, Elmer Bischoff: The Ethics of Paint, Oakland, 2001, p. 101, no. 87 (illustrated in color).
New York, American Federation of Arts, New Talent in the U.S.A., 1959.
Cincinnati Art Museum, American Paintings on the Market Today, February-March 1966.
The Oakland Museum of California; Newport Beach, Orange County Museum of Art and West Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art, Elmer Bischoff, The Ethics of Paint, October 2001-January 2003, p. 101, no. 87 (illustrated in color).

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Jonathan Laib
Jonathan Laib

Lot Essay

Man and Lavender Sky can actually be considered a self-portrait. Curator Susan Landauer writes of the work, "The solitary man in Man and Lavender Sky suggests the artist," through its unmistakable round face and strong body (S. Landauer, Elmer Bischoff: The Ethics of Paint, exh. cat., Oakland Museum of Art, 2001, p. 112). Painted with the same pastoral greens as the background, the figure appears utterly immersed in the environment. Blending figure with nature, he reveals how his artistic identity is indebted to his surroundings. In fact, Bischoff's recent return to his figurative style was facilitated by the landscape format, as the artist used it as a means to reconnect with the figure after his abstract phase.

Bischoff's vacillation between styles recalls the similarly varied styles of his contemporaries, Richard Diebenkorn and David Park. Together, they founded the Bay Area Figurative movement: according to a 1960 review of the artist's work in ArtNews, he wrote that the Bay Area Figuratives, "comfortably cultivate a vision which celebrates the domestic and mundane values of the western way of living; it is a charming and seduction open-air world of homes and gardens... In this sun drenched view of reality... Bischoff's paintings tempt one to bask forever in a sun-kissed ambiance" (H. Crehan, 'Elmer Bischoff,' Art News, 58 (January 1960), p. 12).

From 1945, Bischoff taught at the San Francisco Art Institute with fellow teachers Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Both Still and Rothko made him keenly aware of Abstract Expressionism from an early date. Painted in 1956-1958, the picture's dynamic surface energy and large scale relates it to Abstract Expressionism, despite its representational imagery. In Man and Lavender Sky, Bischoff's virtuoso coloration appears almost sublime in its beauty. The work recalls the romantic notion of the transcendent experience of nature.

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