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Berkeley #16

Berkeley #16
signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘RD 54’ (lower right); signed and titled ‘R Diebenkorn Berkeley #16’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
55 5/8 x 46 in. (141.3 x 116.8 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Paul Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles
Nell Sinton, San Francisco, 1956
Mr. and Mrs. Max Zurier, Beverly Hills, circa late 1950s
Donald M. Feuerstein, Bethesda, 1984
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1989
A. Halbfinger, "Diebenkorn Presents Excellent One-Man Show," The Washington Post, 15 November 1964.
N. Marmer, "Los Angeles: Richard Diebenkorn at James Corcoran," Art in America, July-August 1975, p. 110.
J. Livingston and A. Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Two, Catalogue Entries 1-1534, New Haven and London, 2016, p. 517, no. 1340 (illustrated).
S. Nicholas, Richard Diebenkorn: A Retrospective, New York, 2019, p. 48 (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Paul Kantor Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn, March-April 1954.
San Francisco Museum of Art, Three Bay Region Artists: Ruth Armer, Richard Diebenkorn, Ralph Du Casse, August-September 1954.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, February-April 1955, pl. 40 (illustrated).
Pasadena Art Museum, Richard Diebenkorn, September-October 1960, no. 13 (illustrated).
Pasadena Art Museum, Mr. and Mrs. Max Zurier Collection, April-May 1963, no. 17.
The Washington Gallery of Modern Art; New York, The Jewish Museum and Newport Beach, Pavilion Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn, November 1964-April1965, p. 34, no. 17 (illustrated).
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: Early Abstract Works, 1948-1955, March-April 1975.
La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, Paintings from the Zurier Collection, May-June 1976.
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 and Oakland Museum, Richard Diebenkorn Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976, November 1976-November 1977, p. 23, no. 21, fig. 37 (illustrated).
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, The Zurier Collection, March-May 1984, p. 15, no. 9 (illustrated).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc, New Acquisitions, December 1988-January 1989.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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

Lot Essay

"I don’t know of any artist who was more responsive to his physical environment than [Diebenkorn]… he absorbed the aura of a place." (William Brice, unpublished interview with J. Livingston)

With its passages of rich kaleidoscopic color, interspersed with bands of dynamic brushwork, Richard Diebenkorn’s 1954 painting Berkeley #16 is one of the most accomplished examples from his iconic series that the artist had painted at this point in his career. Inspired by the rolling landscapes of his native California, the fields, crops, fences, paths, and roads have been transformed into expressions of abstraction in its purest form. By capturing the subtle nuances of the topography in such a newly telling and striking manner, Diebenkorn ensured the continued relevance of one of the most distinguished of artistic genres. Widely exhibited, including in the artist’s seminal 1976 retrospective organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Berkeley #16 contributed to cementing Diebenkorn’s reputation as a major painter of the Abstract Expressionist generation.
Across the surface of Berkeley #16, Diebenkorn weaves a rich tapestry of abstract gestures. Fields of verdant green and golden yellows sit adjacent to pools of blush pink. These highly active areas are the result of the artist’s skilled manipulation of his painterly layers; washes of color that are laid down like geological strata, one on top of another, to create veils of luminosity that reverberate as the light penetrates each of the individual layers of pigment. These areas of color are concentrated around the outer edges of the canvas, while the center is populated by a tumultuous concoction of gestures that anchor this highly active surface. Thick black lines and slim trails of dark paint divide and conquer this central core, giving the composition structure, while at the same time freeing it from any representational purpose. While they remain boldly visible in the central portion, they extend out through the entire surface of the canvas, and can be witnessed under the thin washes of pigment (particularly in the yellow passages in the lower right quadrant).     
Diebenkorn’s unique aesthetic of collapsed planes and intensely layered color was inspired by views of the topography of the western United States. The artist’s flight from Albuquerque to San Francisco in 1951 provided a birds-eye view of the countryside that led to a new way of depicting space and color: according to Diebenkorn, "The aerial view showed me a rich variety of ways of treating a flat plane… . 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). Yet their origins can, arguably, be traced back further to the influence of two earlier twentieth-century masters. Much has been written of the influence of Matisse’s planer compositions on the younger artist’s work; Diebenkorn’s first in-depth exposure to Matisse’s work came in 1952, when he visited the Fauvist artist’s MoMA retrospective at Los Angeles’ Municipal Art Gallery. Matisse’s pictures of 1900s and 1910s revitalized Diebenkorn’s enthusiasm for varied, saturated hues and exposed traces of underlying paint or pentimenti. But the way Diebenkorn almost carves his lines into his painted surfaces evokes the topographical impasto of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of the Provençal countryside. Diebenkorn was taken to see an exhibition of the Dutch artist’s work at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1936, a visit which he has recalled fondly.   
1954, the year in which Berkeley #16 was painted, was an important year for the artist. After settling in Bay Area of San Francisco the previous year, Diebenkorn was awarded a fellowship that allowed him to begin painting full-time. This enabled him to devote himself fully to investigating his new form of painterly language. “The emphasis in my development over the past year,” he wrote at the time, “has changed from one of concerns with the general form and style of my work as part of an art movement, to a specific and personal application with a familiar frame directed towards developing those things, which, as an individual, I have to say” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in “Richard Diebenkorn Wins Rosenberg Fellowship,” San Francisco Art Association Bulletin, Feb.–Mar. 1954, online via [accessed 9/16/2021]). This talent was on display in Diebenkorn's first exhibit in New York, when his painting Berkeley #2 was selected by James Johnson Sweeney for inclusion in his 1954 Younger American Painters exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum. Berkeley #16 was also painted at the same time that de Kooning was producing his groundbreaking Women paintings, and an androgynous figure can be seen coming out of this Berkeley landscape.

Berkeley #16 itself has been extensively exhibited, including in 1976 retrospective organized by Robert T. Buck Jr., director of the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. The show traveled extensively throughout the United States including to museums in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles. The exhibition received rave reviews and ensured Diebenkorn’s reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation. Phyllis Diebenkorn, the artist’s wife, commented “It was major…this [exhibition] sort of made [Diebenkorn] national. He was pretty well-known in the art world, but this… did it” (P. Diebenkorn, online via [accessed 9/16/2021]).   
Writing of the importance of paintings such as Berkeley #16 to the history of Western Abstraction, the curator and art historian Gerald Nordland notes: “Each new painting was sui generis, true only to itself, seeking to find a new approach to both form and color. ...Each formal innovation was pushed to its furthest possible extension. Color was exploited in the same fashion—brought into unanticipated relations, explored and searched for possibilities left undiscussed in color classes. There came to be an openness to freedom and search, to risk and inquiry that would have been inconceivable in earlier years. Academic ideas of laws and boundaries were rejected in favor of a personal, more subtle, and more intimate play with the painting experience. Every work of art had to have its own internal coherence and sense of wholeness, and the forms and colors chosen had to present an expressive unity through a powerful charge of feelings in the composition and the juxtaposition of painterly elements” (G. Nordland, “Richard Diebenkorn, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1987, p. 63).

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