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Robert Bechtle
Watsonville Olympia, 1977

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Watsonville Olympia
Artist name
Robert Bechtle
Date created
oil on canvas
48 in. × 69 in. (121.92 cm × 175.26 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase: gift of Charles J. Betlach II, Jean and James E. Douglas, Jr., Evelyn D. Haas, Mary and Andrew Pilara, Prentice and Paul Sack, and Danielle and Brooks Walker, Jr.
© Estate of Robert Bechtle
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Audio Stories

Bechtle on backyards and beer

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SFX: Music—70’s soft rock, as if coming from a transistor radio. Ice cubes



There’s something so familiar about this scene. A backyard barbeque, your cousin hanging out on the deck, holding a beer.


SFX: Ice clinking in a cooler, sizzle of barbeque, a woman’s voice telling a banal story, laughter



“Hold it.”


SFX: the shutter click and wind of an SLR film camera



Don’t we all have a pile of family snapshots just like this? So why make a painting out of something so….ordinary? Here’s the artist, Robert Bechtle:



In the Watsonville Olympia painting, you know, it literally was a snapshot but…


SFX: sprinkler goes off


NARRATOR (interrupting abruptly):

Hang on hang on. Did you hear the title? He called it Watsonville Olympia. Here’s a little art history aside from our curator, Caitlin Haskell:



Olympia has all sorts of art historical references. You know, Manet’s Olympia, Cezanne has an Olympia. That sort of a beautiful, you know, young woman as well. In Manet’s Olympia there’s a very direct confrontation confrontation of gaze, looking right out at the viewer. But the Olympia here, I’ve been told is the beer brand that she’s drinking. (laughs)


SFX: Beer opens



Anyway, back to the artist —


SFX: backyard barbeque fade back up



It literally was a snapshot, but ya know, it was photographed very consciously with the figure in the center, and with the suburban patio furniture figuring very largely in its composition. The photograph, with its sense of that particular instant that just happens to be frozen, you know, in time.



Like those flowers on the chair. They are so 1977.



And the sense of time that a painting has, which is that sense of: Things are always like this. That it’s both a frozen moment, and at the same time, It’s eternally the same.


“Hold it.” Click.”


SFX: the click and advance of a 1970s SLR camera

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Audio Description

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This is Watsonville Olympia, a 1977 oil on canvas by Robert Bechtle. This is a large, horizontal realistic painting of a short-haired Caucasian woman in an orange t-shirt and blue shorts standing in a suburban backyard, holding a beer. The painting measures 4 feet high by 5 ¾ feet wide.

This painting is in such crisp focus, it feels like a family snapshot blown-up to life size. The woman filling the center wears enormous “Jackie-O” style sunglasses. She’s thin and tall and sports a “shag” hair cut. She stands at the edge of a low wooden deck. Her body is turned slightly away from us, but she looks over her shoulder directly at us, sporting a friendly grin. In her right hand, she casually holds a glass beer bottle. Her left knee is bent slightly as she leans against a wooden railing. Her long shadow spills on the ground to the left, casting shade over a low planter box filled with spiky grasses and blooming flowers. 

At the bottom right center of the canvas, a lone deck chair stands between us and the woman’s bent knee. The vinyl chair cushion is covered with an audacious pattern of green flowers and vines. The chair’s metal frame glints in the bright sun.

Running from left to right behind the woman is a tall, brown, wooden fence, sharply delineating the property line. The rooftops of nearby houses peek above the fenceline. The sky is flat and cloudless.

The right side of the painting features a trim, manicured lawn. At the base of the fence, large rocks and clumps of low-to-the-ground plants are on display. The soil there is a rich, coffee brown.

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Other Works by Robert Bechtle

See other works by Robert Bechtle

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