Happy Birthday, Richard Diebenkorn!

Today the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco wish a happy birthday to renowned artist Richard Diebenkorn. The Fine Arts Museums have enjoyed a long relationship with the artist since the Legion of Honor hosted Diebenkorn’s first solo exhibition in 1948. From that point on, the Museums were ardent supporters of the artist and his work. Both the American Art Department and the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts have compiled significant holdings of his work.

Richard Diebenkorn (American, 1922–1993)
Seawall, 1957, Oil on canvas
Gift of Phyllis G. Diebenkorn, 1995.96
© The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Diebenkorn’s roots in California’s cultural landscape were deep. He was raised in San Francisco, graduated from Lowell High School, received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, and later taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) as well as the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts). He is often associated with the Abstract Expressionist school of painting, but Diebenkorn's work is imbued with a searching intellectual curiosity that defies conventional categorization. His work oscillated between abstraction and figuration, a fact that often perturbed and confounded his critics; and more often than not, when one phase of his oeuvre finally gained acceptance, he had already shifted to a different mode of expression.

Richard Diebenkorn, American, 1922–1993
Nude on Black and White Stripes, 1962, Oil on canvas
Partial gift of the Morgan Flagg Family Foundation, 1995.21.1
© The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

His famous Ocean Park series evoked what Diebenkorn called the “space, mood and light” of Southern California. These works synthesized the influences of great modern masters such as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard, as well as those of Abstract Expressionism and Bay Area Figuration.

Richard Diebenkorn, American, 1922–1993
Ocean Park 116, 1979, Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, gift of Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, 2000.20
© The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

In the early 1960s, Diebenkorn was invited to explore etching at Crown Point Press, whose archives are housed in the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. This sparked a lifelong friendship with Kathan Brown, the founder of Crown Point Press, whose guidance helped Diebenkorn use printmaking to gain new perspective on his painting. Throughout the remainder of his career, Diebenkorn relied heavily on print media to enrich his artistic practice. He even developed the habit of using a mirror (commonly used to review prints in process) to re-examine his paintings. In 2009, the Museums acquired two sequential sets of the artist's so-called Stanford Monotypes, a group of twenty-four monotypes that Diebenkorn made over the course of a long weekend in 1975 with the help of his friend and colleague Nathan Oliveira. They were the first Diebenkorn monotypes to enter the Museums' collection, and complement the significant collection of Diebenkorn's prints in the Crown Point Press Archive.

Richard Diebenkorn, American, 1922–1993
V from the set 4-11-75, 1975, Monotype
Foundation purchase, Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions, 2008.11.5
© The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Whether working abstractly or figuratively, in print or in painting, Diebenkorn crafted a highly personal response to his surroundings, for which he has achieved international acclaim. There are currently six Diebenkorn paintings on view at the de Young in Galleries 13, 14 and 15, so come and wish the artist a happy birthday on your next visit!