A 1970’s wood-paneled station wagon is the subject of this photorealist oil painting. The car, a moss-green Gran Torino with mustard-yellow trim and dark wood panelling, sits in a driveway with its trunk at our right and the hood to our left. The car is pristine, as is the pale driveway beneath and the closed garage door at its nose. A dark shadow lies beneath the car, and sunlight reflects off of the windshield and washes over the garage door in rippling waves. Light from the unseen sun plays on the car windows and shines on the chrome roof rack, side mirror, and steel bumper. Every detail has been included in this four-foot tall, nearly six-foot wide painting: a thin line of grass grows in the crack between the driveway and the sidewalk; the dealer name ‘Berkley Golden Bear Ford’ adorns the license plate frame; the valve stems are present on the tires; and the nearly hidden muffler can be found in the dark shadow underneath the car.
Robert Bechtle
Alameda Gran Torino, 1974

For more than 40 years Robert Bechtle has pursued a quiet realism, working from photographs of familiar subjects to depict precise moments in time. Despite their photographic origins, however, his canvases are resolutely and finally about painting. Underneath the smooth sheen of their surfaces lies a textured web of strokes and dabs, where abstract shapes meet edges to form an intricate, layered view of our environment.

Bechtle has often spoken of the "dumbness" of his car paintings, suggesting that the images are so everyday as to be meaningless. But they are anything but ordinary snapshots. As an artist with roots in the California middle class, Bechtle early on recognized both the cultural significance of cars and the relative lack of artistic representations of them. The pristine gloss of his automobile paintings suggests advertising images, though he typically depicts family cars, such as this station wagon, in mundane settings. While he sometimes portrays cars as members of the family, in Alameda Gran Torino, the car appears as its own entity. Its isolation lends the scene an uneasiness: if automobiles exist to move people, then this car’s utter stillness emphasizes the absence of passengers.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Alameda Gran Torino
Artist name
Robert Bechtle
Date created
oil on canvas
48 in. x 69 in. (121.92 cm x 175.26 cm)
Date Acquired
Collection SFMOMA
T. B. Walker Foundation Fund purchase in honor of John Humphrey
© Robert Bechtle
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
Not on view at this time.

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