Thursday, September 19, 2013

Richard Diebenkorn and Ingleside

Source: 1938 Aerial view of San Francisco, from the David Rumsey Map Collection

An earlier blog entry, "Richard Diebenkorn's San Francisco Childhood," noted that Richard Diebenkorn lived at two addresses in the Ingleside Terraces neighborhood of San Francisco.  First from around the ages of 9 to 11 he and his family lived on Cedro Way (the red X) and later from around the ages of 12 to 15 they lived on Moncada Way (the green X).

By the time that Diebenkorn embarked on a career as an artist in his twenties, he and his family had moved out of San Francisco.  During the late 1940s he continued living in Northern California in Sausalito and Oakland.  He returned to the Bay Area during the years 1953-1966 -- the time period of the current exhibit at the DeYoung Museum documenting Diebenkorn's Berkeley Years.

While he painted many California landscapes and many of his abstract works evoke the California landscape, he did very little San Francisco-themed work.  Hilton Kramer writes of Diebenkorn's style, calling it a "style that evoked, without explicitly depicting, an imagery drawn from the broad, sunny, open, uncluttered landscape of Northern California as it was ... in the late forties and early fifties."  Much of the San Francisco landscape might have been too crowded and cluttered for that aesthetic, with one exception it turns out, Diebenkorn's Ingleside (properly speaking Ingleside Terraces).!Large.jpg
Richard Diebenkorn, Ingleside (source: Wikipaintings)

Diebenkorn painted Ingleside in 1963 while living in Berkeley.  In choosing a location to paint, Diebenkorn once said that "clarity of light, space, spareness, expansiveness, contrast" mattered to him the most.  And he certainly found those qualities in his Ingleside landscape. 

Gerald Nordland writes that this painting is:
... a skillful projection of that residential subdivision in deep space, following a suburban street across three intersections and up a hill, with rows of houses on either side, reflecting strong mid-day light.  There are surprising incidents of color and telling touches of impasto white in the buildings which are set off by acres of steel-gray macadam.
Roads and sidewalks meander in unexpected ways forming both curves and straight lines.  Sidewalks frame blacktop, hills in the background contrast the flat land of the foreground.  Grass and trees trim the edges.  There are individual homes in toward the front and rows of less distinct houses on the distant hillside.
Image Number: SFP22-0110
The 200 block of Moncada Way ca. 1920, from the Willard E. Worden Glass Plate Negative Collection, in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

This historic photograph shows Moncada Way about 15 years before the Diebenkorns moved there (their house was later built in the open space at the lower-middle left side of the image).  This photo shows the potential space, spareness and contrast of an earlier time.

The website speculates that the scene shown in the Ingleside painting above would be from "Mercedes Way looking south from Paloma Avenue, with Merced Heights in the background."

It's not really possible to pinpoint a location that Diebenkorn was trying to depict, and in actuality it may have not been a distinct location at all.  In the book A Sense of Place: The Artist and The American Land Diebenkorn told about revisiting his old neighborhood to work on this artwork:
Visiting there thirty years later provided me with a peculiarly concentrated subject matter, one which represented much that I had rejected in intervening years but which at the same time referred largely to what I am. A sense of place was built into my use of this material. I made on-the-spot sketches that were very brief, finding that when I painted from them in my Berkeley studio the relevant detail filled in easily. The pictures that came out of this don't refer to specific streets and houses but I believe are very much about the place, Ingleside. 
Diebenkorn sought an ideal landscape from a setting familiar to him from his youth.  It is also worth noting what he chose to take from that landscape.  As the 1920s photograph shows, most of the houses in the neighborhood, particular in the vicinity of the Diebenkorn residences were in an ornate, wooden, craftsman style.  The foregrounded house in his painting are much sparer, white with orange-red adobe roofs.

The view of the neighborhood below from the corner of Corona Street and Urbano Drive includes some houses that are a little closer in style to those of the painting.  (Specifically, look at the houses on the left side of Corona Street - the street heading into the distance from left to right). 

Corner of Corona Street and Urbano Drive from Google Streetview

The view of Merced Heights in the distance is also clear here.  This ridge features a small dip similar to that of the painting between the Lakeview and Ashton Mini-Park at the left and Brooks Park at the right (behind the pole).  The houses in the background, lined up in a row going up the hillside only began to be constructed in the mid-1940s.  There could still have been bare, grassy spots into the 1960s.

Diebenkorn painted a second landscape in the neighborhood entitled Ingleside II.

Ingleside II (source: Christie's - the painting sold at auction on May 15, 2013)

Hilton Kramer has described this work as one of Diebenkorn's "most successful attempts at designing in deep, illusionistic space.  The pictorial reconstitution of the scene on the flat surface of the canvas is given priority over the painterly inflection of the surface itself."  This painting, like Ingleside, also features streets, sidewalks, lawns and a relative sparsity of dwellings.  The scene itself is reminiscent of the portion of the Ingleside Terraces neighborhood near Holloway Avenue shown below.

 Corner of Monticello Street and Holloway Avenue from Google Streetview

Diebenkorn discussed how the environment he worked from affected him approach to art:
My sense of place is involved with particular pictures and subjects whereas my present environment has to do in a more general way with light, coloring, and configuration.  I painted the Ingleside series in a very different environment (although it was at most fifteen miles distant) from Berkeley's.  Could I have painted Ingleside while working in Albuquerque or Los Angeles?  We can probably agree that the sources for painting are incredibly tangled and we had better hope they stay that way.
The Ingleside paintings reflect this "tangled" perspective on a place that would have been familiar and likely endowed with unique meaning to Diebenkorn.  The streets, houses and terrain of Ingleside Terraces under his brush retain recognizable features of the neighborhood, however he presents a sparer, purer vision than a fully developed and populated space would allow.  The Ingleside of his eye and his mind's eye provides a rich painterly space, and for those of us who know the neighborhood and gain a new outlook on this place.


Alan Gusow, A Sense of Place: The Artist and The American Land (Friends of the Earth, 1972).

Hilton Kramer, "Pure and Impure Diebenkorn," Arts Magazine (December 1963), 46-53.
RichardDiebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976, with essays by Robert T. Buck, Jr., Gerald Nordland ... (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1976).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Merola Goes to the Movies: La Traviata (1982)

Please join us this Sunday in the Koret Auditorium for the 1 p.m. screening of Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata (1982).  Hosted by the Merola Opera Program and the Art, Music and Recreation Department, this film is the first of a five-part series, Merola Goes to the Movies, which aims to bring opera's finest adaptations to celluloid into our library screening room.  Each film will be introduced by a knowledgeable Merola representative.

For those unfamiliar with the Merola Opera Program, for 56 years it has been regarded as the world's foremost opera training program for aspiring singers, coaches and stage directors. As the cornerstone of San Francisco Opera's training and performance programs for promising young artists, Merola has served as a proving ground for hundreds of artists, including Ruth Ann Swenson , Deborah Voigt , Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Sylvia McNair, Thomas Hampson, Carol Vaness, Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, and Dolora Zajick among many others.

Our Merola Goes to the Movies series begins with Zeffirelli’s La Traviata (1982) a film many critics deem the height of opera’s cinematic expression.  Before skyrocketing to directorial fame for Taming of the Shrew (1967) starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and Romeo and Juliet (1968) starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, Zeffirelli began his career in the 1950s as a designer and director for opera working, most notably, for Luchino Visonti.  According to Richard Fawkes in Opera on Film, Zeffirelli “was longing to combine his love of opera with his love of film, but it took him more than twenty years to achieve his ambition.”
Before aiming his intentions on Canadian-born soprano Teresa Stratas who stars as La Traviata’s mesmerizing Violetta, Zeffirelli devoted at least a decade and a half to conceiving, pursuing and negotiating for cinematic adaptations for Maria Callas.  Beginning in 1958, well before he had any film directorial experience, he had proposed to Callas that she star in a filmed La Traviata.  Nervous of film and Zeffirelli’s lack of experience with the medium, she declined.  He later proposed a filmed Tosca, which he had directed her in for stage, but due to the inability to secure the film rights and Callas’ (or possibly Aristotle Onassis’) continued reticence, the closest remnants of her legendary 1964 Tosca performance survive in a 1964 TV special, Maria Callas at Covent Garden.  Despite her increasing retreat from public view and her rebuff of his plans, Zeffirelli had also envisioned Callas for an Aida to be filmed on location in Egypt, but the Six Day War of 1967 brought his planning to a halt.

Over the years Zeffirelli continued to envision filmed operas, even holding a 1979 location scout in Egypt for Aida and storyboarding exercises with Leonard Bernstein (whom he had invited to conduct), but it was not until 1981 that he would achieve his dream of directing an operatic film. That year the Italian state television service, RAI, invited Zeffirelli to film the opening night broadcast of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at La Scala.  Zeffirelli agreed, on the condition that he could make a film--using a closed house, the La Scala sets, orchestra and performers--not just shoot the live operatic performance.  RAI agreed and the director proceeded to film both operas in two days, managing to finish in time for the normal live evening performance to take place as scheduled.  Both were well-received but Pagliacci, starring Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas, also later won an Emmy.  Their success created the opportunity for Zeffirelli to bring his stars to Rome for filming on sets of his own design to create an award-winning La Traviata, the operatic film he had first imagined over twenty years prior.

Sources consulted:
Opera on Film by Richard Fawkes.
London : Duckworth, 2000.
782 ZF2872o 

Encyclopedia of Opera on Screen : a Guide to More Than 100 Years of Opera Films, Videos, and DVDs by Ken Wlaschin.
New Haven : Yale University Press, c2004.
Ref 782 ZW796o 2004 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Richard Diebenkorn's San Francisco Childhood

Richard Diebenkorn was born April 22, 1922 in Portland, Oregon. He is considered a California painter having lived and painting in Sausalito, Berkeley, and Santa Monica. While he never painted here, all of his biographies note that he grew up in San Francisco living here throughout his grade school years.

In fact, San Francisco was only a very limited source of direct inspiration to Diebenkorn. The neighborhoods that he did live in were more suburban than most of the City, and more in tune with the rustic or suburban atmosphere of most of his landscapes. What role did San Francisco play in his creative life?

We will review Diebenkorn’s life in San Francisco drawing upon books, and articles from our Richard Diebenkorn Artists Clipping File, the Newspaper morgue of the San Francisco History Center and our subscription databases. We will also draw upon a very fine oral history of Diebenkorn recalling his childhood days conducted by Susan Larsen and available through the Smithsonian Institute. This information will be supplemented by information from Google Books and the genealogy database

Diebenkorn stated that he came to San Francisco when he was very young -- he estimated in 1924 or 1925. Diebenkorn’s parents first appear in a San Francisco City Directory in 1928, meaning that his family’s actual year of arrival was either 1927 or 1928.

His father, Richard C. Diebenkorn, worked for more than 50 years for the Dohrman Hotel Supply Company as Vice-President and General Sales Manager. He gave his full name, Richard Clifford Diebenkorn, to his son. He also sometimes went by R. C. Diebenkorn, and early on his son went by R. C. Diebenkorn, Jr. That’s actually how he was identified in the betrothal announcement to his future wife, Phyllis Gilman Diebenkorn, printed in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Richard Diebenkorn was the only child in what he described as a “super bourgeois” household. The family probably lived very comfortably. His father worked hard to instill in him a sense of success that would involve taking up a profession. Diebenkorn once recalled: "I remember my father's deathless words. 'Painting is just a fine thing . . . as a hobby. Why don't you do something serious like business?'"

Their first residence in San Francisco listed in the Polk’s Directories of 1928-1930 was on San Rafael Way in the Balboa Terrace neighborhood. They later moved to the Ingleside Terraces neighborhood - in the Directories of 1931-1933 their address is on Cedro Way; in 1934-1936 they resided on Moncado Way. The Diebenkorns moved back to Balboa Terrace for their final San Francisco address, on San Aleso Street between 1937-1940, before moving down to the Peninsula. All of these addresses were within a half mile of each other, and within easy walking distances of Commodore Sloat Elementary School and Aptos Junior High School where he began his education.
The Diebenkorn's 1928-1930 home on San Rafael Way

The 1930 Census gives us a glimpse of the Diebenkorn household. Living with 7 year old Richard Diebenkorn were his parents, Richard and Dorothy, his 62 year old maternal grandmother Florence L. Stevens (actually Stephens - Florence Louise Stephens, née McCarthy), and a 30 year old servant, Effie H. E. Anderson.

It was the latter two who did the most to sustain young Richard’s artistic proclivities in the midst of what seems to have been parental indifference. In an interview for the New Yorker, Diebenkorn recalled that “It was our cook who gave me art materials--and my parents liked that, in the early years, because it kept me out of their hair.” He drew on the white surfaces of shirt cardboards that came with his father’s suits back from the laundry, at first engrossed with sketching hundreds of panels of trains and locomotives. With the supplies from the family cook he moved on to illustrate his own adventure stories, with, as he recalled, “lots of arrows flying, and mayhem.”

His grandmother, Florence Stevens, encouraged his creative side, giving him well-illustrated romance and adventure novels that stoked his imagination. He later spent summers with her at her house in rural Woodside, California where he was let loose in the forest. He reminisced: “I guess I had a pretty good fantasy life during those summers, because I remember I carved--a couple of summers; I must have been eleven and twelve--and carved swords and made shields, and emblazoned them with insignia.”

Florence Stevens was a very educated and accomplished woman. She worked for women’s rights and was a pacifist. As a lawyer she defended German nationals from deportation during World War I and the right of Japanese immigrants to own land. Diebenkorn also recalled that she was a poet, short-story author, watercolorist, and had a radio program where she reviewed books. She devoted herself to nurturing her grandson’s talent and intellect.

In an interview he recounted being taken by his grandmother to an exhibit of work by Vincent Van Gogh. He remembered the year as 1934, but the Van Gogh Exhibition was displayed at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in April and May 1936. Diebenkorn remembered:
What occurs to me in regard to that … as a child going to that show with my grandmother, it was fun. Paintings--I don't know if I really got with it, but it was a memorable day. And the thing that interested me, that is very fresh in my recollection, were the groups of people being taken through that exhibition. Groups of--with a guide, who would be speaking--twenty to thirty people, as we see today, and. . . . the people were laughing--in most of the groups--laughing at the pictures! And I remember one--and I remember this rather clearly too--I listened to one of the men, one of the guides talking to the group, and he was contributing to the fun and games about this crazy painting that was on the wall!
In contrast, he emphasized that his grandmother wasn’t laughing. Her reason for being there was to view that something “to stimulate the both of us.”

Another art-related memory of Diebenkorn’s school age years involved a trip to a “large library” - very possibly the old Main Library. He had read W. Somerset Maugham’s novel The Moon and Sixpence which had a main character based in part upon Paul Gauguin, but whose works were compared in the text to Cezanne, then unknown to young Diebenkorn. He described feeling shock and fascination when viewing the black and white illustrations of Cezanne’s paintings in the library book.
The crazy sort of ... spareness, and the distortions just hit me very hard. There were tabletops where I felt apples should roll . . . . And buildings with skewed verticals and horizontals and backgrounds … A horizon-line or floor-line which came in from one side at this level and popped out at a different level … Very disquieting.
Richard Diebenkorn's senior photo, The Red and White, January 1940 (courtesy of the San Francisco History Center)

While he had an active, inner creative and artistic life, Diebenkorn never pursued art in grade school or made anyone outside of his family aware of his passion. He attended Lowell High School, the City’s college preparatory school, then at the corner of Hayes and Masonic. He was aware of art classes that were given, but wanted no part of them. In an interview in Art Journal he noted although he "didn't want to be different”--he was different. "I drew at home, not at school--and I was not about to become an artiste." As documented in his senior high school yearbook, he “went out for two sports, track and football.” In the 1940 Census, Richard, Jr. was also recorded to have worked as a part-time mail clerk while finishing school.

from The Red and White, January 1940 (courtesy of the San Francisco History Center)

This background prepared him to fulfill his family’s wishes and attend Stanford University. There he intended to follow his father’s plans to become a “doctor, lawyer or something.” And he actually did so for two years, which he recalled having been the longest time he had gone without creating any art. However, the events of World War II compelled him to enlist in the Marines, which he would enter after graduating from University. During his remaining years at Stanford he described his father as becoming “permissive” and he started his formal art education, to the neglect of more "serious" subjects.

As a 1977 San Francisco Chronicle article noted, Diebenkorn was a “solitary and introspective” child. Throughout his youth he had a strong drive to draw and create. As a teenager, he remembered trying to tell his father, "I have this gift of drawing, shouldn't it be taken seriously?"  Out of concern for his only child’s future, his strongly father discouraged him. But world events and his own perseverance permitted Diebenkorn to follow his own inclinations and turn his love into his vocation. As he is quoted in Art News in 1977:
I've never considered painting work. I consider being a painter a luxury in that I'm lucky to be able to make a living by doing what I love the most.
San Francisco was the time of chrysalis before the artist Richard Diebenborn emerged to fly.

 Related blog entry:

Richard Diebenkorn and Ingleside [September 19, 2013]


Oral history interview with Richard Diebenkorn, 1985 May 1-1987 Dec. 15,” interview with Susan Larsen at the Smithsonian Archives for American Art.

Jane Livingston, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn (University of California Press, 1997).

The Red and White (Lowell High School Students Association, Spring 1940).

Maurice Tuchman, "The Early Years," Art Journal 36/3 (March 1, 1977), 206-220. [available through JStor]

“Phyllis Gilman Will Pledge Troth With R. C. Diebenkorn, Jr.” San Francisco Chronicle June 12, 1943.

The following articles may be found in the "Diebenkorn, Richard" file of our Artists File:

Dan Levy, "Abstract Artist Richard Diebenkorn Dies," San Francisco Chronicle March 31, 1993, A1; A13.

Liz Lufkin, "Portrait of an Artist's Return," San Francisco Chronicle June 20, 1989, B3; B5.

Gordon J. Hazlitt, "Problem Solving in Solitude," Art News (January 1977), 76-79.

Dan Hofstadter, "Almost Free of the Mirror," New Yorker September 7, 1987, 54-73.

"Diebenkorn Magic Returns to the Oakland Museum," San Francisco (October 1977), 108-110.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Artists and People

"Mustard in a Vineyard," by Lucien Labaudt, Plate 1 from Artists and People

There is an easily-overlooked title in our collection called, humbly enough, Artists and People. Because the work documents the local art scene, and is not sufficiently indexed in our catalog, we would like to highlight it here.

Yvonne Greer Thiel’s 1959 publication discusses the life and works of approximately thirty local artists and was (as she summarizes on her book jacket) “written for the general public in the hope that people everywhere would better understand artists and their problems. It tells the true-life stories of numerous artists of many nationalities and different backgrounds who came eventually to the San Francisco Bay area to work and make their homes. Some achieved wide fame, others became known locally. The author is a native of the area, who gathered all of her data first-hand.”

The book title itself, Artists and People, is indicative of the author’s desire to present artists as normal, hard-working people and to dispel the myth of the Artist as eccentric or ‘nut.’ In both her writing and in leadership of the Art Lovers Club of Metropolitan Oakland (1930-1982), an organization that promoted local art events, schools and museums, and provided no-interest loans for the purchase of artwork, Thiel aimed to bring together artists and the general public for their mutual benefit.

Today, the book’s lengthy introduction is primarily useful as a snapshot of midcentury thinking about artists and as documentation of the author’s now-antiquated opinions. Within it she passionately explains the artists’ plight, suggests ways to improve their lot (such as taking part-time work making jewelry, Christmas cards and store displays) and informs the artists of what the general public wants to see in their artistic purchases, for example: “If we buy a picture for our walls we want something that our entire families and friends can enjoy. If we buy a portrait we do not wish the eyes to look like two knot-holes in a white-washed fence. It must look like a human…” Clearly both artists and people have a lot to learn about one another and Thiel's goal is to facilitate that happening.

The true value of the book, however, is in the short biographies of Bay Area artists, many offering local details not widely-documented elsewhere. For example, the entry for Sargent Johnson mentions his attendance at the A.W. Best School on California Street, his teaching at a Hunter’s Point housing project called Junior City, and his artworks at the California School for the Blind (the latter has its own interesting story), as well as better-known information such as his enrollment at the California School of Fine Arts and his sculptural works in Aquatic Park.

Artists and People by Yvonne Greer Thiel (Philosophical Library, 1959). - also available online through the Hathi Trust.

Below is a listing of the artists covered by this book. The Art, Music and Recreation Department maintains an Artists Vertical File containing ephemera and local news articles on the artists listed in bold.

Antonio Sotomayor
George Post
Jose Moya del Pino
Theodore Polos
Peter Blos
Sargent Johnson

Tom E. Lewis
Lucien Labaudt
Dong Kingman
Otis Oldfield

Emilie Sievert Weinberg
Raymond Puccinelli (listed as Raimondo Puccinelli)
Zygmund Sazevich
Charles Surendorf
Brents Carlton
Victor Arnautoff
Jacques Schnier
Ruth Cravath
Dorothy Puccinelli Cravath
Alexander Nepote
Hamilton Wolf
Mine’ Okubo

Eugene Ivanoff
John Mottram
Ray Boynton
Two Young Artists
Robert Watson
Misha Dolnikoff
Ray Strong