The present work will be included in the forthcoming Richard Diebenkorn catalogue raisonné under number 1239.
"The human image functions for me as a kind of key to the painting" (R. Diebenkorn quoted in The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1998, p. 50).
Reclining Nude, 1958, is a fine example of Richard Diebenkorn's figurative period, which the artist began in 1956 with a series of drawings made from the California landscape. During this time, Diebenkorn began working with David Park and Elmer Bischoff, two of his colleagues from the California School of Fine Arts. Collectively, the three became known as the "Bay Area Figurative" artists, and by their return to figuration, they countered the prevalent trend for Abstract Expressionism. Diebenkorn, however, avoided associations with any particular group, and the present work, like most from this figurative period, transcends stylistic boundaries.
Taking inspiration from Cézanne's Bathing Women and the later nudes of Matisse, Diebenkorn's Reclining Nude joins with the trajectory of the nude in modern art. Both elementally simple and enormously challenging, the nude provided Diebenkorn with a working method that would sustain him for years to come. He is often quoted as saying, "As soon as I started using the figure my whole idea of my painting changed" (Ibid, p. 50). He often employed his wife, Phyllis, in both drawings and paintings, exploring a multitude of poses and postures. The present work is a typical example of Diebenkorn's reclining nudes, in which the figure is highlighted against a simple background composed of a limited palette. Diebenkorn seems to delight in the undulating curves of the female body, delineating them with obvious outline and shadow. Like the odalisques of Matisse, Diebenkorn's Reclining Nude becomes a sumptuous arrangement of line and color in harmonious agreement.
Diebenkorn, of course, consciously and purposefully moved toward usage of the nude at a time when figuration was considered taboo. Looking back on his work of this era, he commented:
"Ultimately a figure survived [in my work] in terms of the successful dealing with [its] psychology. So again, I think of that criticism which irritated me so about my figures being pawns. As soon as I started using the figure my whole idea of my painting changed...Because you don't have this in abstract painting...And that's the one thing that's always missing for me in abstract painting, that I don't have this kind of dialogue between elements that can be...wildly different and can be at war, or in extreme conflict" (Ibid).