Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Art

The Artist

Nathan Oliveira (1928 - 2010)

 Leo Holub

Nathan Oliveira was a leading member of the Bay Area figurative movement and a professor of art at Stanford University for more than 30 years.

Born in Oakland, California, to a family of Portuguese immigrants, Oliveira studied painting and printmaking at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts or CCAC) in Oakland and with Max Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland in the summer of 1950. After two years in the U.S. Army as a cartographic draftsman, he began teaching painting in 1955 at CCAC and drawing and printmaking at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). He held guest teaching appointments at many art schools and universities, including a tenured teaching position at Stanford.

In 1959, Oliveira was the youngest painter included in the important exhibition New Images of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which also featured works by Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Richard Diebenkorn, and Jackson Pollack. In 1963, a survey of five years of his paintings and works on paper was shown at the Art Gallery of the University of California, Los Angeles, and a fifteen-year survey of his paintings was organized by the Oakland Museum of California in 1973. He had a print retrospective in 1980 at California State University, Long Beach, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco organized a survey of his work in monotype in 1997.

Oliveira was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994 and received many other awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two honorary doctorates, and, in 2000, membership in a distinguished order conferred by the government of Portugal. His work is in the collections of many museums, among them the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Three of his paintings are featured in the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.

Video: "Nathan Oliveira on the Windhover project" (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

Watch Video

 

The Art

Oliveira loved the natural lands of the university. For years, he worked in an airy studio that boasted extraordinary vistas, north to San Francisco and south to San Jose. In the afternoons, he would set out on long walks in the foothills, where he would encounter magnificent birds of prey that make their home at the campus’s edge: hawks, eagles, owls, and kestrels.

Oliveira began to include these birds in his canvases. In 1972, a student’s gift of a stuffed kestrel became a model for a series of drawings and paintings. These works would come in and out of the artist’s studio over the next two decades.

During a chance encounter with the Irish poet Desmond Egan, Oliveira invited him to his studio to see the paintings. Egan was struck by the works' restorative power. When Oliveira told him they were still unnamed, Egan spontaneously recited the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The vast, glorious wings, Egan said, had summoned the lines. That was it. “These works are ‘The Windhover,’” Oliveira said.

Oliveira kept the giant canvases in his home studio. As he endured turbulence—losing his beloved wife swiftly to cancer, and his own health fading—these works centered and comforted him. The artist was still at work on these canvases at the end of his life.

“The Windhover” series is now displayed throughout Windhover for visitors to enjoy. Click on the images below to view high resolution versions of the art work.

The Windhover Diptych


The Windhover Big Red


The Windhover White Wing


The Windhover Sun Radiating