Robert Bechtle (1932-)
Oil on canvas
Overall: 59 3/4 × 84 1/4 in. (151.8 × 214 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Richard and Dorothy Rodgers Fund
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
Though this painting depicts an all-American family, the title of Robert Bechtle's '61 Pontiac emphasizes the automobile, a symbol of affluence, style, and social status. Extending along the entire width of the painting, and portrayed from an elevated angle with its hood curiously cropped, the carefully maintained station wagon projects an optimism and comfort mirrored in the young family's deportment. From a distance, ’61 Pontiac is indistinguishable from a photograph, but up close, the viewer can discern its three separate panels and minute brushstrokes. The work is suffused with the harsh glare of the California sun, which makes it difficult to determine the time of day depicted; such incandescence also flattens its subjects into muted washes of color redolent of a faded photograph. Unusual in its inclusion of people, the painting is autobiographical–it shows the artist and his family in front of their car. Captured with deadpan candor, this portrait of suburban normality assumes the poignancy of a time passed.