Tranquil beach scene with blue sky and sea.

Richard Diebenkorn, Seawall (detail), 1957. Oil on canvas, 20 x 26 inches. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Phyllis G. Diebenkorn, 1995.96 © 2013 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953 – 1966

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This exhibition will examine one of the most complex periods in the distinguished career of Richard Diebenkorn, exploring his shifting conceptions of abstraction and figuration through 131 paintings and works on paper, and emphasizing the formal evolution of these diverse works, their interrelationships, and their possible meanings for the artist.

Although Diebenkorn (1922 – 1993) was born in Portland, Oregon, he grew up in San Francisco’s Ingleside Terraces neighborhood and attended Lowell High School, Stanford University, and UC Berkeley. He lived in Sausalito from 1947 to 1949 and was both a student and instructor at the California School of Fine Arts (today the San Francisco Art Institute). After sojourns in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Urbana, Illinois, Diebenkorn returned to the Bay Area in 1953 and settled in Berkeley, where he stayed for 13 years.

This exhibition is the first to focus specifically on this fertile period for the artist. His artistic evolution during what is now known as the “Berkeley period” yielded many of his best-known works and marked this era as one of the most interesting chapters in postwar American art. The Berkeley period included an abstract phase (1953 – 1956) and a figurative phase (ca. 1955 – 1967) that included landscapes, figures, interiors, and still lifes.

Featuring vibrant and varied works that are both abstract and representational, this unique selection traces the artist’s dramatic stylistic and thematic transformations during this pivotal period through well-known pieces as well as striking recent discoveries rarely or never before seen in public. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have been longstanding supporters of Diebenkorn: his first solo museum exhibition was held at the Legion of Honor in 1948, and the permanent collection houses key works from his Berkeley period including Berkeley #3 (1953) and Seawall (1957). The exhibition features loans from many prestigious public and private collections, including that of the Diebenkorn family.


The exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in collaboration with the Palm Springs Art Museum. President’s Circle: Ednah Root Foundation. Curators Circle: Koret Foundation. Conservators Circle: Christie’s. Benefactors Circle: National Endowment for the Arts. Supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

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The catalogue is published with the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment for Publications.

Currently on view