Lot 10T
  • 10T


3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
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  • Richard Diebenkorn
  • Ocean Park #39
  • signed and dated 71; signed, titled, and dated 1971 on the reverse
  • oil and charcoal on canvas
  • 92 1/2 by 80 3/4 in. 235 by 205.1 cm.


Marlborough Gallery, New York
Chermayeff & Geismar Associates, New York (acquired from the above in December 1971)
Acquired from the above by David Teiger in March 1994


New York, Marlborough Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series: Recent Work, December 1971, no. 12
San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings from the Ocean Park Series, October 1972 - January  1973, n.p., no. 8, illustrated
Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Twelve American Painters, September - October 1974, p. 15, illustrated in color
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park Paintings, November 1992 - January 1993, p. 51, illustrated in color


Harris Rosenstein, "Reviews and Previews: Richard Diebenkorn," ARTnews, December 1971, p. 14 (text)
John Elderfield, "Diebenkorn at Ocean Park," Art International, February 20, 1972, p. 22, illustrated
Norma Skurka, "Opened Up for Living," The New York Times, May 19, 1974
Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1987, p. 165, illustrated in color
Jack Flam, Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park, New York, 1992, p. 51, illustrated in color
Donald Kuspit, "Reviews: Richard Diebenkorn, Gagosian Gallery," Artforum International, January 1993, p. 82, illustrated
Barbara Cavaliere, Contemporary Artists, New York, 1996, p. 323
Laura Garrard, Colourfield Painting: Minimal Cool, Hard Edge, Serial and Post-Painterly Abstract Art of the Sixties to the Present, United Kingdom, 2007, p. 155
Jane Livingston and Andrea Liguori, Eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Four, New Haven, 2016, p. 133, no. 4084, illustrated in color
Laura Garrard, Colourfield Painting: Minimal, Cool, Hard Edge, Serial and Post-Painterly Abstract Art of the Sixties to the Present, Kent, United Kingdom, 2007, p. 155 (text)

Catalogue Note

Within Richard Diebenkorn’s momentous Ocean Park series, Ocean Park #39 vividly exudes the methodical juxtaposition of light and color that has come to characterize the very best examples from this body of work. Rich in varying tones of blue, gray, and green, and precisely articulated in demarcated bands of color, the present work stands as paradigm of the artist’s brilliant conflation of landscape and abstraction into what John Canaday described as “a powerful command of expressive structure.” (John Canaday, “Richard Diebenkorn: Still Out of Step," The New York Times, May 26, 1968, n.p.) Included in two major exhibitions of Ocean Park paintings, Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings from the Ocean Park Series in 1972 at the San Francisco Museum of Art and Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park Paintings twenty years later at Gagosian Gallery in New York, the present work is a sublime archetype of the iconic style for which Diebenkorn has become so revered and celebrated. The present work marks a transformative moment in the Ocean Park series; in contrast to the bold diagonals and juxtapositions of intensely high-keyed color, Ocean Park #39 exemplifies the shift that began taking place in 1971: lines blurred, color became more diaphanous, multifaceted, and difficult to categorize. This stylistic development reoriented the emotive focus of the series, heightening the paintings’ intellectual rigor and contemplative power as their reduced muscularity amplified the introspective resonance of these subtler and more elegant compositions. Diebenkorn executed only ten oil on canvas Ocean Parks from the pivotal year 1971; two are in the permanent collections of the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago.From the architectonic scaffolding of charcoal lines, three areas come to the fore, anchored by a central axis of warm gray paint; to the left, a large translucent passage of deep azure abuts thin bands of green and beige at the edge, and to the left, a rectangle of gray is bisected into two slightly varied hues. The farmost right strip of burnt umber perfectly complements its opposing band of sea green on the left hand side, creating a symmetrical and balanced frame enclosing the composition. Perpendicular lines and orthogonals of gray and black enclose the geometric passages of color, constructing an overarching system that organizes the abstraction. The sea green band on the left ends in a scalene triangle at the upper left corner of the painting and is perfectly complemented by a smaller orange triangle the exact same shade as the right hand band. The richly underpainted zones of color and meticulously scraped, erased, and reworked areas recall the painterly process of forebears such as Willem de Kooning; pentimenti of earlier decisions suffuse every inch of the surface, disclosing a compelling tension between the improvisational nature of his instinctively revised lines with the disciplined scaffolding of the painting. Like the planes of color laid thinly atop one another in soft washes, colored lines of paint are drawn and redrawn, nearly covered, and then retraced. Diebenkorn adjusted this linear architecture as he constructed the composition, leaving hints as to what might have been, and yet proffering a seemingly indispensible and resolved solution.

The exquisite framing of the light as it appears in Ocean Park #39 is highly specific to how it appeared in the artist’s studio; the slants and diagonals that bisect the geometric forms echoed the tilted panes of his studio’s transom windows, through which daylight poured. Constructed of alternating blocks of color and thin lines that hold the surface of paint atop a discernible exoskeleton, Ocean Park #39 retains a dynamic character, as if built from the inside out. The angular vectors of color and line in the present work reverberate like the bending of a ray of light refracted through a prism or glass window, a fascination that underscores the artist’s kinship with modern masters Henri Matisse and Edward Hopper, who similarly blurred the lines between interior and exterior. Indeed, Matisse’s paintings would remain a significant touchstone for Diebenkorn throughout his entire career, particularly The Blue Window from 1913 and Interior with Goldfish Bowl from 1914, as both artists segmented their pictures into planar compartments that at once insist upon flatness but allude to perspectival depth. In a 1971 review of Diebenkorn’s show at Marlborough Gallery, Harris Rosenstein noted of the present work: “In [Ocean Park #39] the bands panel the color in a way reminiscent of Matisse interiors, but lack any necessary structural role in an abstraction tending toward a pieced-together planar surface; the bands become intrusive separations isolating color sectors and prevent the delicately felt and elaborated contacts between them that characterize the best of the new work. In these, the sectoral color areas press together in a taut plane with lines of mortising color at times seemingly pressed out of the crevices between them. With the colors mutually sensitized by contact, his underpainting becomes capable of broadcast effects and encourages a subtle intelligence in its operations – for example, compelling diagonal scanning of mostly vertically delimited color sectors.” (Harris Rosenstein, “Reviews and Previews: Richard Diebenkorn,” ARTnews, December 1971, p. 14)

The splendid surface of the present work harbors a perpetual balancing act between abstraction and figuration, two opposing styles, neither of which Diebenkorn fully committed to. The Ocean Park paintings represent a remarkable feat of creative reinvention and dexterity; executed over nearly twenty years, the series is indisputably regarded as the signature core of the artist’s oeuvre and represents a singular achievement in the sublime fusion of light and color. Indeed, over 45 of these numbered canvases are held in preeminent museum collections in the United States, as well as in distinguished private collections worldwide. At a time when much of the art world was declaring the “death of painting,” Diebenkorn’s work reaffirmed and reassured the perpetual potential and indeed necessity of the medium. Their maturing brushwork and rich fluctuating zones of color reveal painting as an evolving process. Diebenkorn’s unadultered love of paint is embedded in every sumptuous stroke, announcing within the thrilling drama of his canvas the interminable possibility of painting.