Robert Bechtle

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Robert Bechtle
Born(1932-05-14)May 14, 1932
DiedSeptember 24, 2020(2020-09-24) (aged 88)
EducationCalifornia College of Arts and Crafts
Known forPainting

Robert Bechtle (May 14, 1932 – September 24, 2020) was an American painter who lived nearly all his life in the San Francisco Bay Area and whose art was centered on scenes from everyday local life.


Bechtle started drawing at a young age and, with encouragement from his teachers and his family, pursued a future as an artist. By submitting a portfolio of artwork to a national competition, Bechtle won a scholarship that paid for his first year of college. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts (1954) and Master of Fine Arts (1958) from the California College of Arts and Crafts, now the California College of the Arts, in Oakland, California.

When he graduated, he was drafted and sent to Berlin, where he painted murals in the Mess Hall and delighted in visiting European museums. Besides making paintings, watercolors, and drawings—he was an accomplished printmaker. Bechtle began in lithography but, after 1982 when Crown Point Press began publishing his prints, worked mainly in etching.

From 1956 to 1966 he taught at the University of California, Berkeley and from 1967 to 1968 at the University of California, Davis. From 1968 he taught at San Francisco State University and lived in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood. [1]

Bechtle created prints with the Crown Point Press in San Francisco from 1982 on.[2]


Robert Bechtle, ’61 Pontiac, 1968–69. Oil on canvas, 59 3/4 × 84 1/4 in. (151.8 × 214 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; © 1969 Robert Bechtle

Along with John Baeder, Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Richard McLean, and Ralph Goings, Bechtle was considered to be one of the earliest Photorealists. By the mid-1960s, he had started developing a style and subject matter that he has maintained over his career. Working from his own photographs, Bechtle created paintings described as photographic. Taking inspiration from his local San Francisco surroundings, he painted friends and family and the neighborhoods and street scenes, paying special attention to automobiles. Bechtle's brushwork is barely detectable in his photo-like renditions. His paintings reveal his perspective on how things look to him, the color, and the light of a commonplace scene. Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker that in 1969, when he first noticed a Bechtle painting, he was “rattled by the middle-class ordinariness of the scene.” As he looked more closely, he discovered “a feat of resourceful painterly artifice” that he gradually realized was “beautiful.” The article concludes: “Life is incredibly complicated, and the proof is that when you confront any simple, stopped part of it you are stupefied.”

Exhibits and collections[edit]

Robert Bechtle's work has been exhibited internationally. Museum collections that include his artwork are: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)[3] and the Oakland Museum of California (OMA) in northern California;[4] the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art,[5] and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.[6]

Retrospective exhibits[edit]

OMA held a retrospective exhibit in 2000 of Bechtle's paintings, "California Classic: Realist Paintings by Robert Bechtle".[7]

A major retrospective exhibit and the first full–scale survey of the artist's work, "Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective," was organized and exhibited by SFMOMA in 2005,[8] and travelled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[8]


Bechtle died of Lewy body dementia in Berkeley, California on September 24, 2020.[9][10] He was 88.


  1. ^ "Robert Bechtle". Berggruen Gallery. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  2. ^ Video interview with Robert Bechtle, re: Crown Point Press prints.
  3. ^ San Francisco Museum of Modern Art−SFMOMA Collections: Robert Bechtle works
  4. ^ Oakland Museum of California−OMCA Collections: Robert Bechtle works
  5. ^ Whitney Museum of American Art: Robert Bechtle: '61 Pontiac
  6. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum collection: works by Robert Bechtle.
  7. ^ "California Classic: Realist Paintings by Robert Bechtle", 2000 exhibit at OMA.
  8. ^ a b "Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective", 2005 exhibit at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
  9. ^ Whitting, Sam (September 24, 2020). "Robert Bechtle, Bay Area photorealist painter whose work featured everyday cars, dies at 88". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  10. ^ Meline, Gabe (September 25, 2020). "Robert Bechtle, Photorealist Painter of the Everyday Middle Class, Dies at 88". KQED. Retrieved September 25, 2020.

External links[edit]