Have a Private Tour of Matisse/Diebenkorn at SFMOMA by Emma Krasov

Photography by Emma Krasov

Cover photo: Henri Matisse Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916)

Traveling to San Francisco just got a tad more exciting. Or, a ton more! The current special exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), laconically titled, Matisse/Diebenkorn, explores the intricate connection between the two great artists of the 20th century, separated by years, continents, and art schools, and yet united by their unmistakable kinship in color, line, composition, subject matter, and the very method of creating art.


Henri Matisse Goldfish and Palette (1914)

The first ever show to explore Richard Diebenkorn’s (1922-1993) affinity for Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and the endless inspiration the American abstract/figurative painter derived from the French fauve/modernist’s masterpieces was co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art, and is on view at SFMOMA – the only venue on the West Coast – through May 29, featuring about 40 paintings and drawings by Matisse and 60 by Diebenkorn.


Henri Matisse Seated Odalisque with Left Knee Bent (1928)

Matisse’s paintings that admittedly profoundly influenced Diebenkorn at different stages of his life and career, and Diebenkorn’s canvases that in a myriad of subtle and often barely perceptible ways reflect the influences are placed on gallery walls in close proximity to each other, allowing for multiple “Eureka!” moments that add a joy of discovery to the viewer’s pure indulgence in brilliant art.


Richard Diebenkorn Still Life with Orange Peel (1955)

From Matisse’s bold and unusual juxtapositions of color, his unmasked trials and errors, visible erasures, singular assertive lines that magically create an image of unforgettable beauty, the viewer’s eye moves to Diebenkorn’s unpretentious, yet poignant and brimming with life and sunlight figurative works, airy dreamlike abstractions, ink and pencil drawings that look livelier than photography, and the revelation of the similitude between the two geniuses becomes immediately evident.


Richard Diebenkorn Still Life with Orange Peel II (1955-1956)

Matisse/Diebenkorn is an incredible story of artistic inspiration, revealing how Diebenkorn’s enduring fascination with Matisse informed his own body of work in substantive and often surprising ways,” says SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop, Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture. “The exhibition casts new light on two artists represented in depth in SFMOMA’s holdings, and in fact several of the Matisse paintings now in our collection were among the very first paintings by the French artist that Diebenkorn ever saw.”


Henri Matisse Lemons on Pewter Plate (1926-1929)

Diebenkorn’s first encounter with Matisse’s works happened in 1943 at the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein when he was a Stanford University student. As a newly-enlisted Marine in Virginia, in 1944, he was seeking and researching Matisse in the East Coast museums – The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., where he first saw Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) that he said created in indelible impression, “the big one.”


Henri Matisse Interior at Nice (1919 or 1920)

In Los Angeles in 1952, Diebenkorn saw an exhibition of Matisse’s work with such important paintings as Goldfish and Palette (1914) and Interior at Nice (1919 or 1920). After visiting this comprehensive traveling retrospective he began incorporating elements of the French painter’s paintings into his own compositions with brighter palette and new interest in structure.


Henri Matisse Flowers and Parakeets (1924)

Diebenkorn’s Bay Area Figurative paintings and drawings echo some of Matisse’s compositions that he particularly admired, with intriguing parallels perceptible in outlines and color choices of otherwise vastly different pieces, like Matisse’s Interior with Violin (1918) and Diebenkorn’s Interior with Doorway (1962); Matisse’s Notre-Dame, A Late Afternoon (1902) and Diebenkorn’s Ingleside (1963); and Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905) with Diebenkorn’s Seated Figure with Hat (1967).


Richard Diebenkorn Untitled (1961-62)

Diebenkorn never stopped seeking out Matisse’s art, discovering a treasure trove of never before seen masterpieces during his trip to the former Soviet Union in 1964. He saw the extensive collections of works by Matisse in the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. This experience is reflected in Diebenkorn’s Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad (1965) and Large Still Life (1966), which both feature the sort of ornate patterned wallpaper or textiles favored by Matisse.


Henri Matisse Reclining Nude with Arm behind Head (1937)

Two years later, at the large (more than 350 works) retrospective in Los Angeles, Diebenkorn saw “almost abstract” Matisse’s paintings, View of Notre Dame (1914) and French Window at Collioure (1914), that influenced his most famous and celebrated abstract Ocean Park series.


Richard Diebenkorn Untitled (Seated Woman, Patterned Dress) (1966)

Coming from the American and European museums and private collections, and rarely (if ever) seen together, the artworks on display include multiple SFMOMA’s own pieces resulting from the museum’s long history of dedication to displaying both Matisse and Diebenkorn en masse and often, but the San Francisco institution’s role in this landmark presentation extends to more than just the supplement from its permanent collection.

SFMOMA offers private guided tours for guests looking to experience the museum in a private and engaging setting. A knowledgeable art historian will lead the group through the beautiful, newly expanded space, giving insight to the outstanding collection of modern and contemporary artworks. 

A variety of six tours are currently being offered, including the current special exhibition, Matisse/Diebenkorn.

Private tours are perfect for friend or company outings, celebrations, gifts, or just a way to visit SFMOMA in a whole new way, private to your party. Members receive discounted pricing.

Reservations can be made by submitting a request online at www.sfmoma.org/groups, or by emailing groups@sfmoma.org.