Richard Diebenkorn - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
    Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville (acquired from the above in May 1984)
    Their sale, Sotheby's, New York, November 10, 2014, lot 7
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Richard Diebenkorn, May 12 - 31, 1984, no. 23, p. 17 (illustrated, p. 11)

  • Literature

    Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn: Revised and Expanded, New York, 1987, p. 243 (illustrated in progress in the artist's studio)
    Jane Livingston and Andrea Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 4, New Haven, 2016, no. 4534 (illustrated, p. 355; illustrated in progress in the artist's studio, pp. 334, 432)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "My idea was simply to get all the elements right. By that I mean everything: color, form, space, line, composition, what all this might add up to—everything at once." –Richard Diebenkorn

    Untitled, 1982, epitomizes the balance of controlled vision and intuitive spontaneity of the Ocean Park series for which Richard Diebenkorn has become known. Working in his preferred media at the time, Diebenkorn demarcated lines and planes in gouache and crayon, overlaying these with luminous painting and unpredictable breaks that reveal traces of his creative process. Untitled is dominated by deeply saturated blues, white and black, a palette that draws comparison to his large-scale paintings on the same theme. Untitled was formerly owned by Paul and Rachel Mellon, who acquired it in 1984, just two years after its creation. The Mellons assembled one of the most significant American art collections of the 20th century and held several works by Diebenkorn, including other major examples of Ocean Park paintings on canvas and on paper.

    Breaking from the representational imagery that he had pursued since 1955, Diebenkorn began his Ocean Park works in 1967, naming them after the Santa Monica neighborhood of his new studio, previously occupied by the painter Sam Francis. He would devote himself principally to the series for the next two decades, creating what would be celebrated as among the most significant abstract works of the later 20th century. Inspired by aerial views of the landscape throughout his career, the palette and structure of the radiant Ocean Park series was inspired by the light, water and atmosphere of Southern California. As he relayed, “I arrive at the light only after painting in it, not by aiming at it” (Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Michael Kimmelman, “A Life Outside”, The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1992, online). Diebenkorn’s architectonic rigor in this series coalesces with his use of luminous color and expressive application, drawing upon his admiration for the modernist masters Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian as well as from his earlier experience painting in abstract expressionist and figurative modes.

    The Ocean Park works inspired Diebenkorn to explore form and color through a diverse range of media. These interrogations led paper to become an essential aspect of his practice by 1970, a medium that would remain so for the rest of his career. Indeed, from 1980 through 1984, Diebenkorn abandoned painting on large-scale canvases, instead turning his attention almost exclusively to creating works on paper. According to curator Ruth Fine, “The Ocean Park works on paper parallel his canvases in the quest both to reveal his understanding of the world around him and to refine the world he was creating” (Ruth Fine in Jane Livingston and Andrea Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, New Haven, 2016, p. 136). Diebenkorn created the Ocean Park works on paper with an approach specific to their medium and scale. As the artist noted, “A small canvas usually becomes for me an unfeasible miniature. Paper, I find, is something else, lending itself to the different scale” (Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Drawings 1974–1984, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 77).

    His return to the Ocean Park works in the 1980s allowed Diebenkorn to extend his experiments with composition, and specifically the morphology and signification of abstract shapes. In Untitled, Diebenkorn first laid down rectangular bands and lines that he subsequently painted over, leaving them embedded in the work as palimpsests that he used to build up the overall composition. This is particularly evident in the upper third of the composition, where slackly curved lines are visible under washes of blue gouache. These lines are reinforced by gestural brushstrokes below that contrast with the work’s predominant rectilinearity. In its palette and use of visibly layered compositional elements, Untitled is strikingly reminiscent of Matisse’s groundbreaking View of Notre Dame, 1914, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Matisse’s art was central to Diebenkorn throughout the entirety of his career, with Susan Landauer observing that “even when looking at Matisse’s renowned innovations in color, Diebenkorn focused on their unconventional spatial effects” (Susan Landauer, Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, exh. cat., Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, 2011, p. 43).

    With his paintings on paper, Diebenkorn would often adjust the composition with additions of painted paper shapes that he would integrate during his creative process. According to Gerald Nordland, “when the artist occasionally found himself perplexed by a compositional knot in a work on paper, he would often prepare a patch of paper to cover the area, and permit himself to rethink it…The practice of pasting in a small area did not begin as a collage, but as the idea of trying out a color change, a compositional adjustment, or a new openness” (Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 2001, p. 203). We see evidence of this process in the curving paper form that rounds the corner at the upper right, the white rectangle cut diagonally, and the irregular geometric shape painted in blue. Both refining the composition and remaining visible as a discrete marker of the artist’s intent, these paper additions evince the importance of process and contingency to Diebenkorn. Untitled is a pivotal example of the progress that curator John Elderfield observed in Diebenkorn’s work of the time, in which “paintings, on canvas as well as paper, became tougher and bolder through the 1980s, more tolerant of discordant shapes, and more urgently vernacular in the form of the utterance” (John Elderfield, Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1997, p. 113).

Property from an Important Private Collection



signed with the artist's initials and dated "RD 82" lower left
gouache, crayon and pasted paper on joined paper
33 1/8 x 22 1/2 in. (84.1 x 57.2 cm.)
Executed in 1982.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,220,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue