Richard Diebenkorn was a Stanford junior in 1943, when an invitation to lunch at the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein, Gertrude Stein’s sister-in-law, changed his life. Art lined every wall, but it was the dozens of works by the monumental Modernist Henri Matisse (1869-1954), whom the Stein family had befriended and patronized in Paris, that drew him in. “Right there I made contact with Matisse, and it has just stuck with me all the way,” recalled Diebenkorn (who died in 1993 at age 70). Though they never met, Diebenkorn saw himself “working in Matisse’s legacy,” says Janet Bishop, co-curator of the “Matisse/Diebenkorn” exhibition, opening in March at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Seeing Matisse’s bold colors and brushstrokes (Notre Dame, a Late Afternoon, 1902) next to Diebenkorn’s radiant abstract landscapes (Ingleside, 1963), Bishop says, “it’s almost as though Diebenkorn did what Matisse would have done if he’d kept painting.”
Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.