Group of Houses, 1961.
Elmer Nelson Bischoff (American, 1916–1991)
Oil on canvas, 56 3/4 x 58 1/4 in. Crocker Art Museum Purchase, 1964.23.

A Bay Area native, Elmer Bischoff studied at the University of California, Berkeley, under Modernists such as Worth Ryder and Erle Loran. Following World War II, he joined the remarkable assembly of faculty at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA; now San Francisco Art Institute), which included David Park, Clay Spohn, Hassel Smith, and Clyfford Still. Bischoff played a dynamic role there, actively exhibiting and proving a charismatic figure among San Francisco’s avant-garde.

In 1950, Bischoff, Park, and Richard Diebenkorn, all Abstract Expressionists, began to engage in life-drawing sessions. This traditional practice was considered regressive, but Bischoff enjoyed drawing from the model and did not find doing so a denial of contemporary concerns.

Bischoff resigned from the CSFA faculty in 1952. At the same time, his work underwent a profound change, a change which gained a name in 1957 when the Oakland Art Museum, which later became the Oakland Museum of California, included Bischoff’s work in the exhibition Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting, christening the new figurative subject matter as a movement.

Bischoff went on to teach at the University of California, Berkeley. His most vibrant painting dates to the 1950s and ’60s, when the broad gestures of Abstract Expressionism gave form to Bay Area scenes such as this one of rooftops viewed from Berkeley.

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