Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Audio: Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #48
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
1 More
Property from a Distinguished West Coast Collection
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

Berkeley #48

Details
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
Berkeley #48
signed with initials and dated 'RD55' (lower left); signed again, titled and dated again 'R DIEBENKORN 1955 BERKELEY #48' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
62¾ x 59½ in. (157.5 x 149.9 cm.)
Painted in 1955.
Provenance
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Private collection, 1975
Staempfli Gallery, New York, 1980
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1980
Literature
K. Baker, "What set Bay Area painters apart in '60s," San Francisco Chronicle, 24 January 2009, p. E3.
C. Lewallen, MATRIX Berkeley, 1978-1998, Berkeley, 1998, n.p.
P. Plagens, Sunshine Muse: Contemporary Art on the West Coast, New York, 1974, p. 38, fig. 18 (illustrated in color).
E. Thomas, MATRIX Berkeley: A Changing Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Berkeley, 2009, p. 85 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Carbondale, Southern Illinois University; East Lansing, Michigan State University; Northfield, Carleton College; Winnipeg, University of Manitoba; Gainesville, University of Florida; Huntington, Marshall College; San Francisco Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; Seattle, University of Washington, Henry Gallery; Long Beach Municipal Art Center; Tucson Fine Arts Association; Atlanta Public Library; Laurel, Lauren Rogers Library and Museum of Art; Kalamazoo, Western Michigan College; Pittsburg, Kansas State Teachers College, Young American Painters, September 1956-July 1958.
London, Tate Gallery, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade, 54-64, April-June 1964, p. 199, no. 243 (illustrated).
Berkeley, University of California, University Art Museum, Richard Diebenkorn: MATRIX Berkeley 40, January-March 1981.
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, Abstract and Figurative: Highlights of Bay Area Painting, January-February 2009, pp. 34-35, pl. 12 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Richard Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonné under number 1144.

The rich texture and earthy palette of Richard Deibenkorn's sumptuous Berkeley #48 distinguishes this work as one of the finest examples of the artist's iconic series of Berkeley paintings. Comprised of intertwined planes of warm tones, regal reds and azure blues nestling alongside flashes of maroon and green pigment--this majestic mirage slowly unveils itself as a powerful rendition of Diebenkorn's beloved northern California landscape.

All of Diebenkorn's Berkeley pictures were executed with bold brushwork but Berkeley #48 is distinguished by the range and scope of the artist's different technique. Imposing swathes of color are complimented by delicate ribbons of pigment and scoring through layers of paint with the blunt end of his wooden brush as Diebenkorn produces a dramatic sense of energy and movement. With pictures such as this, the artist achieved a stronger linear element than previously seen in his work as blocks of color seem to tumble together, held together by diagonals and stripes of darker color which originate at the sides of the canvases and move directly across the center of the composition recalling a vast expansive horizon. The result is a luscious picture in which spontaneity is tempered by the logic of the structural elements.

Berkeley #48 follows in a long and honorable tradition of artists responding to landscapes of the American west. For generations of painters, the countryside of the American interior has held a unique fascination and almost spiritual significance and inspired some of this country's greatest artists. Yet Diebenkorn's inherently modern response to the emotional pull of the American landscape comes out of a generation of artists who wanted to reject the traditions of the past. His abstract expressionist inclinations demand that he found a way of invoking a new vision of the topography of the American west. 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. "The aerial view showed me a rich variety of ways of treating a flat plane-like flattened mud or paint," he stated "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 #48 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.

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 #48 is the artist's response to a wide range of artists who fired his imagination. Diebenkorn's early encounters with the work of Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse were crucial in this development. The march towards abstraction that he witnessed from Cézanne's collapse and juxtaposition of foreground and background and Matisse's chromatic brilliance and organization of space within geometric scaffolds paved the course of his own non-objective works. Diebenkorn's veneration of Matisse culminated in his epoch-making visit to Leningrad in 1964 where he witnessed first-hand the power of some of Matisse's greatest paintings at the State Hermitage. 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's 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 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 and the color, vivacity and energy of Berkeley #48 place it among the highlights of this important series.

More from Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

View All
View All