Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn never met, but Diebenkorn, the California postwar artist, was profoundly influenced by the work of the French modern-art pioneer, and the two shared a creative wavelength.
“Matisse/Diebenkorn,” an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, pairs paintings and drawings by these artists, looking at Diebenkorn as Matisse’s artistic heir.
About 100 works (including some masterpieces) by the two 20th-century giants focus on how Diebenkorn (1922-1993) throughout his career drew inspiration from Matisse (1869-1954), whose paintings he saw in museums and galleries.
Through pairings and wall text, curators Janet Bishop, from SFMOMA, and Katy Rothkopf, from the Baltimore Museum of Art, examine how Diebenkorn incorporated ingredients from Matisse’s work into his own creative process as he continued to take American abstract and figurative art to new places.
Both painters were master colorists.
Their work features a superb sense of balance between interior and outdoor components, and between geometric and sinuous elements. Their subjects, rooted in art history, include seated women, studio scenes and the still life.
The exhibition follows the career of Diebenkorn, from postwar abstract expressionism to Bay Area figurative art and back to abstraction, with Matisse acting as a splendid supporting presence.
Matisse’s “Goldfish and Palette” (1914) and Diebenkorn’s abstract “Urbana #6” (1953) make up an opening pairing. Patches of black white and blue in Matisse’s representational work echo in Diebenkorn’s abstract construction. Vermillion splotches in Diebenkorn’s picture suggest Matisse’s fish imagery.
Matisse’s “Interior With a Violin” (1917-18) appears to have been on the mind of Diebenkorn when he painted “Interior With Doorway” (1962), though the exquisitely rendered folding chair is Diebenkorn’s entirely. Each work features indoor and outdoor imagery, bright light shining through windows, and rectangles playing off one another.
Models sitting in chairs are both artists’ terrain. Beyond the similarities behind their pairing, Matisse’s fauve-period “Woman With a Hat” (1905) and Diebenkorn’s contemporary-looking “Seated Figure With Hat” (1967), like so many pieces on view here, shine individually.
Additional highlights include works from Diebenkorn’s ambitious, late-career “Ocean Park” cycle, which consists of about 135 abstract works inspired by the artist’s Santa Monica environs. Also look for “French Window at Collioure” (1914) and “View of Notre Dame”(1914), experimental works by Matisse that influenced Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” series.
Black-and-white works created by Diebenkorn in 1964, too, are on view. Highlights include an untitled still life with a coffee cup, tableware and a tablecloth whose floral design suggests patterns from Matisse’s works.
A coda section contains pieces by contemporary artists inspired by Matisse and Diebenkorn. Particularly noteworthy and fun is Rachel Harrison’s “Hoarders,” a colorful multimedia sculpture resembling the chapeau from Matisse’s “Woman in a Hat.”
IF YOU GO
Where: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except closed Wednesdays and until 9 p.m. Thursdays); closes May 29
Admission: $19 to $25; free for ages 18 and younger
Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.orgBaltimore Museum of ArtHenri MatisseJanet BishopKaty RothkopfMuseums and GalleriesRichard DiebenkornSan Francisco Museum of Modern ArtVisual Arts