Surrounded by an enigmatic darkness that serves only to enhance the profound intimacy of the depicted scene, the figures in Two Women at Table enact their roles as characters in Diebenkorn’s constructed narrative by deeply and exclusively engaging one another in conversation. With her back fully turned, the central figure leans in to her companion, the stripes of her skirt and deliberate delineation of her form seeming to presage the artist’s later predisposition towards a linear representation of physical space. Diebenkorn’s devout respect for the alchemical properties of his chosen media – the densely worked surfaces of his Ocean Park paintings are one of the definitive characteristics of that corpus – is also here readily apparent in the impressionistic treatment of the second figure’s visage. As if to evoke movement, the paint that describes this woman’s facial features has been blurred outside the loosely discernable contours of her jaw and neckline. Thus we are at once privileged in our singular viewpoint of this exceptional scene for the access we are granted into a genuinely private moment, and simultaneously denied any definitive understanding as to the particulars of the situation. Ultimately, however, we receive Two Women at Table as a marvelously replete total image, in which Diebenkorn’s true painterly identity comes to the fore.
The various stylistic junctures that described Diebenkorn’s career resulted not only in a corpus abounding with innovation and beauty, but in a series of personal reflections on his own beliefs, decisions, and ultimate intentions. According to the artist himself, foremost among the fundamental concerns in his life and work was a deep-seated underlying commitment to aspects of the modernist tradition framed generations earlier by the great European masters. Painters such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse left an enduring impression on Diebenkorn, and their influence is perhaps nowhere as evident as in Two Women at Table. Above all, Matisse’s impact on the artist’s career, and the present work in particular, is irrefutable; not only was Diebenkorn’s visual description of space deeply informed by iconic works such as French Window at Collioure (1914), but the striped skirt of the central figure in Two Women at Table is a direct homage to Matisse’s Grande Odalisque à culotte bayadère (1925), of which Diebenkorn was acutely familiar. In theme, composition, and execution Diebenkorn here dons the mantle of his forebears, extending the oft-examined art historical motif of the conversation, or intimate exchange between two figures, into the late Twentieth Century and imbuing it with his own aesthetic individuality. The foremost champion of Modernism’s final chapter, Richard Diebenkorn steadfastly pioneered a novel vernacular that celebrated a hitherto unprecedented marriage between the fundamentals of abstraction and figuration, and Two Women at Table stands as an absolute archetype of this extraordinary investigation.
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