Richard Diebenkorn - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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    Richard Diebenkorn, 'Berkeley #66', Lot 21

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Paul Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles (acquired circa 1956)
    Private Collection (acquired circa 1956)
    Private Collection (acquired in 1976)
    Robert Aichele Gallery, Menlo Park (acquired circa 1977)
    Christie’s, New York, May 3, 1995, lot 5
    John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco; James Corocoran Gallery, Los Angeles and Acquavella Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale)
    Elizabeth and L.J. Cella, Kentfield, California (acquired in 1995)
    Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York (acquired in 2007)
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2007)
    Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York (acquired in 2010)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010

  • Exhibited

    San Francisco Museum of Art, Seventy-Fifth Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, March 29 - May 6, 1956, n.p. (incorrect work illustrated)
    Sacramento, Crocker Art Museum, 100 Years of California Landscape, July 31, 1987 - July 31, 1988
    San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: Selected Works from 1949-1991, March 21 - April 27, 1996
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Richard Diebenkorn, October 9, 1997 - January 19, 1999, no. 17, p. 272 (illustrated, p. 45)
    San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-1966, June 22 - September 29, 2013, pl. 39, p. 246 (illustrated, p. 118)
    New York, Acquavella Galleries, California Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn | Wayne Thiebaud, February 1 - March 16, 2018

  • Literature

    “California on Canvas…in Sacramento”, Sunset Magazine, January 1988, p. 34B
    Jane Livingston, “Richard Diebenkorn”, American Art Review, May - June 1998, p. 148
    “Opening Exhibitions: Richard Diebenkorn”, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art News, September - October 1998, p. 6
    Stephen Westfall, “Richard Diebenkorn: A Reasoned Sensuality”, Art in America, October 1998, p. 109
    Janet Bishop, Corey Keller and Sarah Roberts, eds., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 2010, p. 164
    Jane Livingston and Andrea Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, New Haven, 2016, p. 54
    Jane Livingston and Andrea Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 3, New Haven, 2016, no. 2099, p. 164 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    With its textured surface and rich palette, Berkeley #66, 1956 is one of the most exquisite examples of Richard Diebenkorn’s pioneering style. Created at a pivotal moment in his career, the present work represents a critical juncture in the artist’s development right before he would abandon abstraction for representation. Belonging to a series of roughly sixty abstract paintings made while living in Berkeley, California between 1953 and 1956, Berkeley #66 received an award from the San Francisco Art Association when it was shown in their 75th Commemorative Artist’s Council Award exhibition the same year of its creation. Having already solidified his place in the burgeoning San Francisco arts scene, Diebenkorn had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1956 at the Poindexter Gallery, signifying his growing influence on American abstraction at large. As such, Berkeley #66 is uniquely positioned as one of the last, celebrated abstract paintings he would make until his renowned Ocean Park works ten years later, one which illustrates his first experiments with representational modes. Housed in the same private collection for almost a decade, Berkeley #66 has been extensively exhibited since its execution, signifying its importance in the artist’s body of work.

    After leaving his teaching position at the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1953, Diebenkorn moved with his family to Northern California. Just missing the cut-off to apply for teaching jobs for the academic year, Diebenkorn was able to focus entirely on painting. Situated between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean – surrounded by both the urban landscape of the city as well as the hilly terrain of Marin County – Berkeley’s unique topography served as the perfect inspiration for Diebenkorn’s next body of work. As Timothy Anglin Burgard described of its effect on the artist, “The gradual rise of the Berkeley hills up from the bay has the effect of creating a natural amphitheater for optimal viewing of the surrounding landscape. The shimmering surface of the bay can assume an astounding spectrum of color from blue to green to grey, or, alternately, a silver or gold mirror like state at sunrise and sunset. The cyclical arrival and departure of the Bay Area’s distinctive fog creates disorienting spatial effects, as when the narrow strip of land is visible between the low lying mist above the bay area below, creating a form of tripartite stratification…[and] prismatic effects of extraordinary subtlety” (Timothy Anglin Burgard, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966, exh. cat., M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, 2013, p. 17).

    In the present work, bands of ivory, gold, blush and magenta layer atop one another across the expanse of the canvas with palpable density, diminishing along the right side. Despite the regularity of these horizontal bands in the upper part of the composition, perspectives collapse to the left and below as cooler blues and violets encroach inward, creating disruptions resembling “thrusts drawn from Cézanne landscapes” (Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn: Revised and Expanded, New York, 1987, p. 57). Perhaps the warmth conveyed by the hues in the right side of the painting were inspired by a setting sun over the Golden Gate Bridge, a site Diebenkorn would have become very familiar with during his time living in Berkeley. Upon close inspection, the darker brushstrokes could be the winding, hilly streets of San Francisco, juxtaposed with the blue water of the bay on their left. The same year as the present work’s creation, Stuart Preston would describe Diebenkorn’s Berkeley paintings as resembling “aerial photographs of a big varied landscape with shore-line mountains, cliffs and fields, the contours, perhaps, of California, where this painter lives and has made his reputation. For all its considerable energy and invention, Diebenkorn’s work remains strangely impersonal or, rather, remotely personal” (Stuart Preston, “Painting on View”, The New York Times, March 4, 1956). Diebenkorn himself would acknowledge the effect of viewing landscapes from above. “One thing I know has influenced me a lot is looking at landscape from the air… Of course, the Earth’s skin itself had ‘presence’—I mean, it was all like a flat design—and everything was usually in the form of an irregular grid” (Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Dan Hofstadter, “Profiles: Almost Free of the Mirror", The New Yorker, September 7, 1987, p. 61).

    As such, Berkeley #66 exemplifies Diebenkorn’s use of the abstraction he developed in Albuquerque and Urbana to embark upon representational painting. His peers and friends including David Park and Elmer Bischoff were the founding members of the Bay Area Figurative Movement beginning in the early 1950s, forming a group of artists with a common desire to abandon the prevailing Abstract Expressionist tendencies for a return to figuration. At first, Diebenknorn resisted this shift in the early part of the decade, having already established himself as the abstract voice on the West Coast. By the middle part of the decade, however, he began to entertain the idea. “In the rush of painting that I did in 1954-1955, I had experienced my first kind of opposition. It was a struggle all along, but that is the story of being an artist! But in 1955 things started to slow down, and I was attributing this to my being in a stylistic straightjacket. I felt that perhaps I had too many rules, that there was too much Abstract Expressionism hanging over my head, and so…there was need for change” (Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-1966, exh. cat., M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, 2013, p. 34). Preceded by his very first representational landscape Chabot Valley painted a year before in 1955, the present work perfectly encompasses this opposition. As Emma Acker aptly described of the dualities within the Berkeley works, “the fifty-eight extant paintings in the series arguably represent Diebenkorn’s greatest achievement in assimilating his own landscape tendencies with the stylistic innovations of Abstract Expressionism” (Emma Acker et. al., Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-1966, exh. cat., M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, 2013, p. 70).

    For many artists, Diebenkorn’s Berkeley works were a major turning point in the mid-20th century, their influence even more poignant today with the current reinvigoration of representational modes in contemporary painting. Reflecting on these paintings in 1977, sculptor Manuel Neri said, “God damn it, it was pretty strong stuff. It was a type of painting we hadn’t seen on the West Coast before. Diebenkorn had a wildness…an out-of-control feeling. Those were urgent times, wild times. He brought us a new language to talk in” (Manuel Neri, quoted in Beth Coffelt, “Doomsday in the Bright Sun”, San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle: California Living Magazine, October 16, 1977).

Property of an Important Private Collector


Berkeley #66

signed with the artist’s initials and dated “R.D. 56” lower right; further signed, titled and dated "R. DIEBENKORN 1956 BERKELEY #66" on the reverse
oil on canvas
41 5/8 x 36 5/8 in. (105.7 x 93 cm.)
Painted in 1956.

$3,500,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for $3,500,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019