Many of Richard Diebenkorn’s cigar box works—intimately-scaled and created in a limited series between 1976 and 1979—were gifts for friends or family. They possess a highly personal and very special quality yet they, “cannot be classified as either playful or minor. They are too dazzling” (J. Livingston et al., The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1997, p. 73). In contrast with his other works, the cigar box lids are a rare instance of Diebenkorn incorporating found objects into his work, that is, working with re-purposed or discarded materials. It’s remarkable that the painting fits this new form so well, and Diebenkorn’s ability to use the repurposed material speaks to his considerable skill as an artist.
The lower two-thirds of Untitled is covered in a pale wash of light paint, above which Diebenkorn drew his characteristic ruler edged and hand drawn lines, reminiscent of a framework or scaffolding. The upper portion of the work is taken up with pale yellow, grey, and red washes, colors that are alternately contained by or over-spilling the graphite boundary lines organizing the upper third of the work’s surface. Characteristic of all the works in the series, Untitled bears a personal inscription located at the bottom portion of the panel, dedicating the work to the recipients, in this instance William and Roselle Davenport. Roselle Davenport was herself a painter, having studied with French modernist Fernand Leger. Diebenkorn and his wife on occasion visited the couple’s home located in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, and while there he sometimes painted in Roselle’s studio. Diebenkorn dedicated a number of other works of his to the couple, as well.
The cigar box paintings “echo and distill the themes being simultaneously worked out in the Ocean Park paintings and drawings, but in a kind of hothouse. Taken together, the cigar box lids comprise a concise reference work on the artist’s formal quirks and compositional obsessions. Many of the most arresting or idiosyncratic passages in the Ocean Park paintings appear in them, from the hesitant-yet-defining diagonal cutaway to the half-erased boundary; from the tension between ruled and free-hand lines to the occasional compulsion to introduce a severely symmetrical arch; and from the map like habit of construction to the infrequent, and somehow always arresting, introduction of aleatory drips and splatters on the surface” (J. Livingston et al., The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1997, p. 73)