In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Robert Bechtle, Bay Area Photorealist Painter

Monday, September 28, 2020
Image of Robert Bechtle's photorealist oil painting, a self-portrait sitting on a couch near a window looking to a street with a Volvo parked on the curb
“Potrero Hill” by Robert Bechtle. Oil on canvas. 36 inches by 66 inches. 1996. Image courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- Robert Bechtle, a master photorealist painter whose signature style always seemed to feature a common Pontiac or Gran Torino station wagon parked in front of a Bay Area suburban home, died Thursday morning at a hospice care facility in Berkeley.

Bechtle’s gift was to take a mundane scene and paint it to evoke a simple snapshot of a family and its car, or just a car in its driveway. When viewed from afar, often at the Whitney Museum of American Art or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, it was if you were looking through a window at the real thing. But as the viewer got closer the magic in the precise brushstrokes opened up. One of his most famous paintings, “Alameda Gran Torino, 1974” always draws a crowd when on display in the permanent collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

After many years teaching at California College of Arts and Crafts, which became California College of the Arts, he moved to San Francisco State University, where he got tenure and taught for 30 years. Bechtle received an honorary doctorate from CCA in 2007.