Richard Diebenkorn (American, Portland, Oregon 1922 - 1993 Healdsburg, California)
Woman by a Large Window, 1957
Signed lower left: RD 57
Acrylic on canvas
70 7/8 x 64 7/8 in. (180 x 165 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1958
Woman by a Large Window is one of several works that incorporate aspects of Diebenkorn's earlier abstractions with figural and landscape elements. It was painted shortly after the artist's transition from abstraction to representational painting in late 1955.
Diebenkorn's move towards figurative painting began after an extended period of abstract painting from 1948 to 1955. The transition to representation actually began around 1950 with a group of works that bear an implicit, rather than overt, relationship to nature. Living in New Mexico, Illinois, and finally Berkeley, California, the artist began to explore the idea of landscape, finding the painterly equivalent of his impressions in the topography and atmosphere of these regions.
At that time public approval of Abstract Expressionism was high and Diebenkorn had achieved great critical success, particularly for his Berkeley abstractions. Nonetheless, by 1955 he had become dissatisfied with his abstract paintings. He later noted that "it was almost as though I could do too much, too easily. There was nothing hard to come up against." 1 Towards the end of that year he began to paint a few still life paintings, experimenting with a representational idiom. He also participated in regular sessions of drawing from the human figure with friends and former teachers David Park and Elmer Bischoff. By the end of 1956 Diebenkorn was painting consistently in a representational manner.
Diebenkorn's representational paintings date from approximately 1955 to 1966 and are dominated by the human figure, considered by the artist to be the most complex and challenging of subjects. 2 Diebenkorn was interested in the effect the human figure had on the "mood and flavor" of a painting. He would situate one, as in the Oberlin painting, or occasionally two figures in a room or on a balcony, and add architectural elements or a landscape behind them, often painted in a somewhat geometric manner that recalls his earlier abstractions. The mirror placed at the right of the composition serves as a central element in the Oberlin painting, not only enlivening the space but also creating pictorial ambiguity.
The subjects in Diebenkorn's figural paintings are typically turned away from the viewer. Facial features are minimized, providing an impression rather than a likeness, and lending a sense of the universal rather than the specific. 3 Seldom painting directly from the figure, Diebenkorn usually worked from figure drawings; his figure study for this painting is also in the Oberlin collection.
Ellen Johnson did not consider these figurative works to constitute a totally unexpected shift in the character of Diebenkorn's work, for his earlier abstractions also had an implicit relationship to nature. She wrote: "While the mood of the picture is conveyed most obviously through the position and attitude of the figure, still the entire painting functions in evoking this response; Diebenkorn's abstractions create much the same general effect of gentleness in tension, without the explicit psychological element present in the Woman by a Large Window." 4
Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1922, Diebenkorn moved with his family to San Francisco two years later. He entered Stanford University in 1940, and enrolled at the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco in 1946, where he met the artists David Park (1911-1960) and Elmer Bischoff (1916-1991). 5 His paintings of this time were first exhibited at a solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1948. He was awarded his undergraduate degree from Stanford in 1949, and in 1950 he left San Francisco to attend the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, where he received an M.F.A. in 1951. In 1953 he returned to Berkeley, where he would remain for several years. In 1955 he was invited to participate in the Three Young Americans exhibition at Oberlin.
Diebenkorn's first figurative canvases appeared publicly in the landmark exhibition Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Paintings held at the Oakland Art Museum in 1957-58. Including works by Diebenkorn, Bischoff, and Park, the exhibition represented the first major public acknowledgment of the new Bay Area figurative movement. Diebenkorn's works were critically well received and he was hailed as the most important artist of the movement.
In 1966 Diebenkorn moved his home and studio to Santa Monica, California. He began teaching at UCLA that same year and remained there until 1973. By 1967 he had begun the Ocean Park paintings, a series he continued for decades. In 1978 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. In 1988 he moved from Santa Monica to Healdsburg in northern California, where he continued to create primarily small works, mostly drawings, until his death in 1993. His work was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition in 1991, the same year he received the National Medal of Art.
Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976. Essays by Robert T. Buck, Jr., Linda L. Cathcart, Gerald Nordland, and Maurice Tuchman. Exh. cat., The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N. Y., 1976.
Newlin, Richard, ed. Richard Diebenkorn: Works on Paper. Houston, 1987.
Nordland, Gerald. Richard Diebenkorn. New York, 1987.
Richard Diebenkorn. Essay by John Elderfield. Exh. cat., The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1991.
Purchased from the Poindexter Gallery, New York, in 1958
Los Angeles County Museum, 1957. Cat. no. 57-586.
New York, Poindexter Gallery, 1958. Recent Paintings: Richard Diebenkorn. 24 February - 29 March. No cat.
Kansas City, Mo., William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, 1959. Aspects of Representation in Contemporary Art. 8 February - 8 March. No cat.
Bloomington, Ind., Art Center Gallery, Indiana University, 1959. New Imagery in American Painting. 3 - 22 December. Checklist no. 6.
American Federation of Arts, 1960-61. The Figure in Contemporary American Painting. Traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., Sheldon Swope Art Gallery; Springfield, Mo., Springfield Art Museum; Hollins, Va., Hollins College; Oswego, N.Y., State University of New York; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Coe College; Winston-Salem (N. C.) Public Library; Santa Fe, Museum of New Mexico; Philadelphia, Tyler School of Fine Arts; and Louisville, Ky., J. B. Speed Art Museum. No cat.
Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center, 1964. Six Americans. 8 February - 29 March. Cat. no. 1.
Los Angeles, Lytton Center of the Visual Arts, 1967. California Arts Festival. 1 October - 30 November. Cat. no. 15.
Johnson, Ellen H. "Diebenkorn's `Woman by a Large Window.'" Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 1 (Fall 1958), pp. 18-23, fig. 207.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 14; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 288.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Painting and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 46-47, fig. 207.
Mittler, Gene A. Art in Focus. Peoria, Ill., 1986, p. 31, fig. 2.19.
Nordland, Gerald. Richard Diebenkorn. New York, 1987, p. 120.
Johnson, Ellen H. Fragments Recalled at Eighty: The Art Memoirs of Ellen H. Johnson. Edited by Athena Tacha. North Vancouver, 1993, pp. 41-42, ill. p. 43.
The painting is in generally good condition, painted in acrylic paint on a medium weight, tightly woven canvas with a thin wooden frame. There is some traction crackle from the drying medium in certain areas, and there is active flaking in both top corners and the lower right corner. The painting was mounted on a spring stretcher in 1958. At that time the dull areas of the painting were coated with nonacrylic polymer, although the pigment surface has not been retouched. Linen strips were attached to the tacking margins with a plastic emulsion glue, and excess canvas was tacked to the stretcher with wax.
The method of painting involved multiple layers painted alla prima in different tones that are quickly scumbled over and into each other. Broad brushstrokes are visible in numerous areas and the white ground shows through in several places. The paint was very fluid when applied and drips are scattered throughout. Although contrasting colors frequently lie one on top of the other, this does not necessarily indicate that the artist reworked the composition. There are no restorations.
1. Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn (New York, 1987), p. 88.
2. Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn (New York, 1987), p. 93.
3. Gerald Nordland, in Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976 (exh. cat., The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N. Y., 1976), p. 34.
4. Ellen H. Johnson, "Diebenkorn's 'Woman by a Large Window,'" Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 1 (Fall 1958), p. 23.
5. These two likeminded artists later became, along with Diebenkorn, the leaders of the Bay Area figure painters.