Property Sold to Benefit The Donald and Barbara Zucker Family Foundation
This May, Christie’s will offer 22 Masterpieces by Richard Diebenkorn: Property Sold to Benefit The Donald and Barbara Zucker Family Foundation. The selection will be sold across Christie’s Evening and Day Sales of Post-War and Contemporary Art on May 17 and 18. Leading the group is Richard Diebenkorn’s iconic Ocean Park #126, 1984. With an estimate of $16-20 million, the painting is positioned to realize a new world auction record for the artist. The present group demonstrates superb focus, as it traces the artist’s creative trajectory from abstraction and figuration to the seminal Ocean Park series.
Refined over the course of four decades, Richard Diebenkorn’s body of work is distinguished by an effortless elegance that disguises the complexity and sophistication of its creation. Shimmering planes of saturated color are infused with the heady atmosphere specific to the West Coast. Beginning with his earliest work, Diebenkorn sustained virtuosity in not one, but many different styles, from the gestural Abstract Expressionist paintings of his Sausalito, Albuquerque, and Berkeley series, to the Bay Area Figurative movement, and finally, the consummate splendor of Ocean Park. This unsurpassed collection of paintings and works on paper beautifully illustrates each of the artist’s distinct forays into a different pictorial vernacular.
Leading the collection is Richard Diebenkorn’s consummate canvas, Ocean Park #126 (estimate: $16,000,000-20,000,000), left, and in-situ, left. Painted in 1984, the present canvas stands out as one of the pinnacles of this now iconic series. In this monumental canvas—arguably the best of his career—the viewer is engulfed by its immense scale and broad passages of luminous color. Standing before the painting, one has the uncanny sensation of being warmed; its inner light has a radiating effect. Raking diagonals evoke the sparkling view of the ocean as seen through the window on a sun-filled California afternoon. Coming as it did on the heels of two decades of refinement, the three predominate hues of crystalline blue, orange-tinged yellow and delicate pink play off each other like a beautiful melodic chord. “One of the greatest things about [his] work is his use of color, which is spectral or prismatic,” the artist Wayne Thiebaud has said of Diebenkorn’s work. “There are always at least two yellows, two reds, two blues so that the warm and cool alternation or juxtaposition of the colors enlivens the work. …and they tend to develop what’s called color chords, much like the three notes on a piano.” Ocean Park, 1984, is positioned to realize a world auction record for the artist.
The earliest work represented by the group is Sausalito, which was painted in 1949 (estimate: $500,000-700,000). With this painting, Diebenkorn lays out the foundation of a style that would sustain him for many years to come. Evocative of landscape without figurative depiction, this early canvas evokes the hue of the hillside town on the Bay, with wisps of cloud-like forms rolling in off the water. Already in this remarkable prescient work, the architecture of Diebenkorn’s mature style has crystallized; its wide swathes of atmospheric color are bordered by a muscular yet graceful line amid bursts of bright color.
Moving into the next decade, Berkeley #25 ($700,000-1,000,000), is a triumphant example of the artist’s eponymous series painted in 1954. Executed with a gestural force that rivals even Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Diebenkorn’s thickly-loaded brush links together the loosely-geometric planes of brushy color. Touches of pale blue and mossy green hint at the luminous hues that would become his signature palette—evocative of sun-dappled vistas, leafy green hills and the pellucid waters of the San Francisco Bay. In this sophisticated arrangement of color, gesture, and form, Diebenkorn is both at the full height of his Abstract Expressionist powers.
In the mid-1950’s, Diebenkorn became associated with the Bay Area Figurative Movement, and continued to work in a representational mode for the next ten years. In lush evocations of the female form, such as Nude—Elbow on Knee, painted in 1961 ($800,000-1,200,000), he continued many of the pictorial innovations of the prior series but nestled them within an intimate portrayal of the human figure. This important painting was recognized early on as a significant one within the artist’s newly developed oeuvre. It was included in a watershed exhibition of the artist’s work at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 1963, where it featured alongside such masterpieces as Girl Looking at Landscape (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and Girl on a Terrace (Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase).
The linear structure that buttresses the organic curvature of the nude in Nude—Elbow on Knee opened up and blossomed several years later, when the artist again switched course in the midst of a successful series to begin his most beloved body of work, the Ocean Park paintings, with the Ocean Park #126 of 1984 as the definitive example. Refined and polished over several decades, Diebenkorn’s work reached a glorious culmination with the Ocean Park series that he began in 1967 and continued, until his death in 1993.
Sara Friedlander, International Director, Specialist Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, remarked: “For the past thirty years, the Zucker’s have lived with Richard Diebenkorn’s entire career in their living room. This exceptionally rare exploration of one artist in such depth represents a Diebenkorn retrospective and touches on virtually every moment of his life as he moved across America. Diebenkorn’s deeply personal vision and exploration of both abstraction and figuration cement him as one of the most important American artists of the 20th Century.”