Works by the great French Impressionist and the post-war American painter he inspired.

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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“Matisse always surprises me…. It’s the restraint coupled with the sensuousness that’s so utterly exceptional.” Richard Diebenkorn

The distinguished artistic career of the prominent postwar California painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993) began with his unique style of abstract expressionism (ca.1946–1956), then moved to figurative works, including landscapes, still lifes, interiors and human figures (1955–1967), and reverted to abstraction in his later years. It is well known in art circles that throughout his life Diebenkorn gained artistic inspiration from the oeuvre of the renowned French modernist Henri Matisse (1869–1954). Although the artists never met because of their geographic and age differences, Diebenkorn sought out and savored Matisse’s works at museums and galleries.

“Matisse/Diebenkorn,” is a delight for the eyes that brings together more than 100 brilliant images by the two world-class painters. It presents, in chronological order, a marvelous sampling of Diebenkorn’s paintings and drawings. Interspersed among them are remarkable images by Matisse —ones that Diebenkorn had actually viewed proximate to the time that Diebenkorn rendered his own neighboring creation. This coupling encourages viewers to make side-by-side artistic comparisons between the two colorists’ efforts and supports a deeper understanding of the indelible impact Matisse had on Diebenkorn, all while allowing the observer to appreciate Diebenkorn’s unique talents.

In 1943, while Diebenkorn was attending Stanford University, an art professor arranged for him to visit the home of Sarah Stein (sister-in-law of Gertrude Stein), an early Matisse supporter and collector, who then owned about 100 Matisse pieces. At that time, Diebenkorn would have seen these works that are now hanging in the exhibit: “Sarah Stein” (1916), “Landscape: Broom” (1906), “Still Life with Blue Jug” (ca. 1900-1903), and “Woman with a Hat” (1905). Diebenkorn was immediately taken with Matisse’s use of lush colors, as well as his controlled technique, and expression. Diebenkorn remembered, “Right there I made contact with Matisse, and it has just stuck with me all the way.”

Diebenkorn’s fondness for Matisse’s paintings is also reflected in their related use of geometric shapes, vibrancy, flat perspectives and subject matter. In comparing Diebenkorn’s “Interior Doorway” (1962) with Matisse’s “Interior with Violin” (1918) one can see aspects of one of Matisse’s favored subject matter, his use of opened doors and windows as bridges between the interior and exterior. “Interior Doorway” also reflects Diebenkorn’s appreciation of American realist Edward Hopper’s dramatic use of empty buildings.

Even when there is no parallel of subject matter, the homage is still apparent. Matisse’s fabulous “Large Reclining Nude” (1935) has no apparent subject in common with Diebenkorn’s “Window” (1967), yet the swath of orange color and the geometric composition of both are analogous.

“Matisse/Diebenkorn” has been organized with intelligence and artistry by curators, Katy Rothkopf of The Baltimore Museum of Art and Janet Bishop of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who spent more than six years researching and obtaining the most appropriate images from museums and private collectors throughout the United States and Europe. With wonderful works by both painters, “Matisse/Diebenkorn” is a dazzling exhibit, a celebration of great art and scholarship not to be missed.

By Emily S. Mendel

©Emily S. Mendel 2017 All Rights Reserved.

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