11 March - 29 May 2017

SFMOMA, San Francisco


 “Matisse/Diebenkorn is an incredible story of artistic inspiration, revealing how Diebenkorn’s enduring fascination with Matisse informed his own body of work in substantive and often surprising ways,” said Janet Bishop, Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture. “The exhibition casts new light on two artists represented in depth in SFMOMA’s holdings, and in fact several of the Matisse paintings now in our collection were among the very first paintings by the French artist that Diebenkorn ever saw.” 


Co-curated by Bishop and Katy Rothkopf, BMA Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, Matisse/Diebenkorn follows the trajectory of Diebenkorn’s career, illuminating how this influence evolved over time through different pairings and groupings of both artists’ work, as well as a selection of Matisse books from Diebenkorn’s personal library that will be included in the exhibition. 


As a Stanford University art student in 1943, Diebenkorn first saw the work of Matisse at the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein, one of the French painter’s earliest champions. When he was stationed with the Marines on the East Coast in 1944, he studied great works by Matisse in museums including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., where he made repeat visits to see Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916). 


Diebenkorn’s first truly immersive experience of Matisse’s work occurred in Los Angeles in 1952, when he encountered such important Matisse paintings as Goldfish and Palette (1914) and Interior at Nice (1919 or 1920) in a traveling retrospective. Shortly after seeing this exhibition—a decade since his first experience of Matisse’s work—Diebenkorn began to incorporate elements of the French painter’s approach to painting into his own compositions, which is reflected in the brighter palette and new interest in structure evident in Diebenkorn’s Urbana No. 5 (Beachtown) (1953) and Urbana No. 6 (1953). The opening galleries of the exhibition feature outstanding works from Diebenkorn’s Urbana and Berkeley periods (1953–1955) that demonstrate the significant impact of his early encounters with Matisse on his then predominantly abstract paintings. 


Exceptional paintings and drawings on view from Diebenkorn’s representational period (1955–1967) illustrate the artist’s shift from abstraction towards identifiable subject matter—still lifes, interiors, city scenes and figural works—and will be presented with some of Matisse’s own compositions that were of particular relevance. Pairings that reveal the importance of Matisse’s example throughout this period include interiors such as Matisse’s Interior with Violin (1918) with Diebenkorn’s Interior with Doorway (1962); city scenes including Matisse’s Notre-Dame, A Late Afternoon (1902) and Diebenkorn’s Ingleside (1963); and Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905) with Diebenkorn’s Seated Figure with Hat (1967). 


Left: Henri Matisse, The Blue Window, 1913; oil on canvas; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

Right: Richard Diebenkorn, Woman on a Porch, 1958; oil on canvas; New Orleans Museum of Art, museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts Matching Grant; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 


Throughout his later career, Diebenkorn continued to seek out Matisse’s example, most notably during a trip to the Soviet Union in 1964, where he saw the extensive collections of works by Matisse in the State Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin Museum. This experience resulted in a number of canvases from the end of Diebenkorn’s representational period that pay direct homage to the French artist, including Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad (1965) and Large Still Life (1966), which both feature the sort of ornate patterned wallpaper or textiles favored by Matisse. This trip was followed by a visit two years later to another Matisse retrospective in Los Angeles where he saw nearly 350 works by the French artist. View of Notre Dame (1914) and French Window at Collioure (1914), two highly significant, nearly abstract Matisse paintings that Diebenkorn saw in the Los Angeles retrospective will be included in the exhibition. 

Diebenkorn moved to Southern California in 1966, and established a studio in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica. Shortly thereafter, he returned to abstraction, producing the color- and light-filled abstract compositions for which he is best known, ranging from the transitional Ocean Park #6 (1968), which retains vestiges of the human body, to the luminous Ocean Park #79 (1975). Throughout this period as well, the impact Matisse had on Diebenkorn is evident in the color, geometric structure and evidence of process. Matisse/Diebenkorn will conclude with Ocean Park paintings from this period of Diebenkorn’s career (1968–1980), juxtaposed with a selection of Matisse’s most influential works including the 1914 canvases mentioned above, which Diebenkorn acknowledged as especially important to him, as well as other paintings that were part of Matisse’s 1966 retrospective, such as The Girl with Green Eyes (1908). 

Although they never met, both artists have a longstanding history in the Bay Area and deep connections to SFMOMA. Matisse’s expressive paintings were first introduced to San Francisco shortly after the 1906 earthquake, shocking the arts community with their startling colors and brushwork. The French artist made one visit to San Francisco, in 1930, and his very first West Coast survey was held at SFMOMA in 1936, a year after the museum was founded. Matisse’s work—specifically Woman with a Hat (1905), on view in the exhibition—has become a historical anchor of SFMOMA’s painting and sculpture collection. Diebenkorn had deep personal and professional connections with the Bay Area, growing up in San Francisco’s Ingleside Terrace neighborhood and graduating from Lowell High School; attending Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute (then the California School of Fine Arts); and teaching at both the San Francisco Art Institute and the California College of the Arts. He visited SFMOMA for the first time in 1945, and exhibited his work here for the first time in 1946. Continuing the exploration of artistic inspiration, an adjacent coda gallery will feature work by contemporary artists that relate to Matisse and Diebenkorn, including Rachel Harrison, Elizabeth Peyton and others.


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