Monday, March 6, 2017

Bravo, SFMOMA! Exciting Art News: Matisse/Diebenkorn Exhibit — March 11 through May 29 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This surprising and dramatic new show organized by SFMOMA and the Baltimore Museum of Art is visually thrilling and a lovely jolt to the brain and eyes.

Matisse/Diebenkorn reveals insights into two great artists—and presents a lively revelation into concepts of inspiration, experimentation, emotional engagement, ideas, homage, and idealization in art.

Henri Matisse, Femme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat), 1905; oil on canvas; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, bequest of Elise S. Haas; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

Richard Diebenkorn, Urbana #5 (Beach Town), 1953; oil on canvas; collection of Joann K. Phillips; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Great new show. Two exciting artists.

I love Henri Matisse. I love the sensuality of his colors. I love the way he romances interiors, and heightens rooms and people with vivid color.

And I love the rigor and romance and intelligence of Richard Diebenkorn’s paintings.

Matisse is one of my favorite painters.

Last January in Paris I spent two days (until closing time) in a dramatic gallery full of his best paintings. The Shchukin Collection, at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, is chockablock with Matisse and Gauguin and Picasso canvases. I had seen some of these paintings inin Russian museums. They had never been shown outside Russia.

To stand in the large gallery surrounded by Matisse’s studio paintings, his vivid interiors, his portraits from Morocco, and his experimentation with color and light was emotional, exhilarating. It was the art experience of a lifetime. Beauty! I was overcome. I had tears in my eyes looking at Matisse’s paintings. Surrounded by his early twentieth-century masterpieces, I was crying.

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 

Henri Matisse, Notre Dame, A Late Afternoon, 1902; oil on paper mounted on canvas; Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

Russian collector Sergei Shchukin was Matisse’s great Moscow patron around 1904--1912. And with Shchukin’s devoted patronage, Matisse soared to heights of experimentation, emotional engagement, and expression.

Imagine. At the Paris exhibition, I was in a fever dream of Matisse.

On my return to San Francisco, I learned about the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at SFMOMA.

So now…more delirium. The Matisse paintings selected for this show from collections around the world, are emotionally captivating. I’ve enjoyed a preview.

Matisse said (or was it a detractor?) that his paintings were ‘like a comfortable armchair’.

Are they intellectually stimulating? That’s up to you.

Watch Matisse experimenting with paint. Catch his engagement with everyday objects. Was he a provocateur? I’d say he was not. Russian revolutionaries found him decadent and provocative. 

Henri Matisse, Goldfish and Palette, 1914; oil on canvas; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift and bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

Henri Matisse, View of Notre Dame, 1914; oil on canvas; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired though the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and the Henry Ittleson, A. Conger Goodyear, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Sinclair Funds, and the Anna Erickson Levene Bequest given in memory of her husband, Dr. Phoebus Aaron Theodor Levene; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

SFMOMA is showing a superb group of Matisse paintings. This show reveals Matisse with his bold palette and shape-shifting compositions, painting in Paris, painting in Moscow.

This show reveals that Matisse was the formative inspiration for California painter, Richard Diebenkorn, who was one of the greatest California landscape/seascape and abstract artists. In one Diebenkorn's masterworks, ‘Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad’ the artist pays direct homage to Matisse, capturing a fragment of floral textile (a Matisse favorite) juxtaposed in a sunlit California landscape.

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916; oil on canvas; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

Henri Matisse, Interior at Nice, 1919; oil on canvas; the Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Mrs. Gilbert W. Chapman; © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

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 this influence evolving over time through different pairings and groupings of both artists’ work. A selection of Matisse books from Diebenkorn’s personal library is included in the exhibition.

“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. The exhibition casts new light on two artists represented in depth in SFMOMA’s holdings, and several of the Matisse paintings now in our collection were among the first paintings by the French artist that Diebenkorn saw.” — curator Janet Bishop

A Close Inspiration: Stylistic Affinities

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. 

Richard Diebenkorn, Urbana #6, 1953; oil on canvas; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, museum purchase, Sid W. Richardson Foundation Endowment Fund; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Richard Diebenkorn, Ingleside, 1963; oil on canvas; Grand Rapids Art Museum, museum purchase; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1964; graphite and ink on paper; Collection of Leslie A. Feely, New York; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Woman, 1967; oil on canvas; collection of Gretchen and John Berggruen, San Francisco; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Inside the Mind of Diebenkorn

As a Stanford University art student in 1943, Diebenkorn first saw the work of Matisse at the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein (sister-in-law of Gertrude), 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 Matisse paintings including 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.

Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Figure with Hat, 1967; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gift of the Collectors Committee and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Rubin; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Richard Diebenkorn, Window, 1967; oil on canvas; Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Diebenkorn and anonymous donors; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79, 1975; oil on canvas; Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors; © the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

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 

All About Diebenkorn and His Obsession with Matisse

“Diebenkorn’s first in-depth exposure to the work of Henri Matisse happened in the summer of 1952, when he saw the retrospective exhibition organized by Alfred Barr for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in its venue at the Municipal Art Galleries in Los Angeles. In the fall of that year, he moved with his family to Urbana, Illinois, having accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois. The work made at that time, known as the “Urbana period,” is characterized by a continuation of his subtle abstract/calligraphic style, but with a richer, more intense palette.” — from ‘Matisse/Diebenkorn’ catalog

If you can’t see the show for the moment, definitely collect the catalog. It is one of the best I’ve seen, and superbly designed and intelligently presented.

It presents the concepts of the show very fully—and artfully shows the Matisse paintings alongside the Diebenkorn homage paintings.

The text is compulsively readable…revealing the first sightings of Matisse in Palo Alto and New York…and later an incredibly fortunate trip to Russia on a cultural exchange.

There in Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Diebenkorn avidly visited the best of the best of Matisse paintings from the early 1900s. Many of the paintings that engaged him are now on view in Paris (their first viewing outside Russia) at the Louis Vuitton Foundation exhibit of the Shchukin collection.

Chapters in the catalog, which is edited by Janet Bishop and Katherine Rothkopf, include sections on how Matisse and Diebenkorn ‘broke the rules’ and on their abstract explorations. It also takes readers into Diebenkorn’s library and his bibliography of Matisse publications that he used as references. Fascinating and illuminating.

Highly recommended.

Exhibition Organization

Matisse/Diebenkorn is co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art.

The exhibition is curated by Janet Bishop, Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA, and Katy Rothkopf, Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at The BMA.

All images of paintings and the catalog used here with permission via SFMOMA.

SFMOMA: Details

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103 

Snøhetta expansion of the new SFMOMA, 2016; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

SFMOMA is dedicated to making the art for our time a vital and meaningful part of public life. Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art.

SFMOMA opened a new Snøhetta-designed expansion on May 14, 2016. New entrances and public spaces connect SFMOMA to the city as never before, while the art- filled ground floor is open to all, free of charge.

The new SFMOMA, view from Yerba Buena Gardens; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA 

The transformed museum, which incorporates the renovated Mario Botta building, triples the current exhibition space from 70,000 to 170,000 square feet. This additional gallery space enables the museum to display much more of its outstanding and rapidly growing collection. Highlights of the project include The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection — with an inaugural presentation of nearly 260 postwar and contemporary artworks by the most well-known artists of our time in dedicated galleries.

The Fisher Collection includes important works by: 
· Georg Baselitz
· Alexander Calder
· Chuck Close
· Ellsworth Kelly
· William Kentridge
· Anselm Kiefer
· Roy Lichtenstein
· Agnes Martin
· Joan Mitchell
· Gerhard Richter · Richard Serra
· Cy Twombly
· Andy Warhol 

Approaching American Abstraction: The Fisher Collection exhibition; photo: © Iwan Baan, courtesy SFMOMA 

Roberts Family Gallery featuring Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006) at SFMOMA; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA 

Group and private visits:Private guided tours for Matisse/Diebenkorn:

Tours booked at least two weeks in advance. For more information:

Check or call 415.357.4000 for more information.


carrps said...

Oh, I love Deibenkorn so much! Ever since I saw his show at LACMA in the 1970s I've been somewhat obsessed. My older sister actually lived very near his studio in Santa Monica but never had the nerve to knock. This exhibit looks like a killer.

Meg said...

I highly recommend getting the audio tour of the exhibition. It helps you understand so much more about the two artists. I saw it once with and once without, and learned an incredible amount that I would have missed.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you....yes and Diebenkorn is so much less known. He's admired in CA but hardly known among the bluechips in New York.
Oh...I would knock on his studio door. is both a visual feast, this show, and intellectually rigorous.Rare and unusual.
And...the Matisse paintings are thrilling...
Paula--all best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you so much. tour is thrilling and engrossing.
It adds a rich dimension.
Matisse--my favorite (well, among the top ten...there are many artists I love...).
And Diebenkorn's obsession with Matisse is fascinating, heartening, and true.