Robert Bechtle

'61 Pontiac

Not on view



Oil on canvas

Overall: 59 3/4 × 84 1/4in. (151.8 × 214 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Richard and Dorothy Rodgers Fund

Rights and reproductions
©1969 Robert Bechtle

Though this painting depicts an all-American family, the title of Robert Bechtle's '61 Pontiac emphasizes the automobile, a symbol of affluence, style, and social status. Extending along the entire width of the painting, and portrayed from an elevated angle with its hood curiously cropped, the carefully maintained station wagon projects an optimism and comfort mirrored in the young family's deportment. From a distance, ’61 Pontiac is indistinguishable from a photograph, but up close, the viewer can discern its three separate panels and minute brushstrokes. The work is suffused with the harsh glare of the California sun, which makes it difficult to determine the time of day depicted; such incandescence also flattens its subjects into muted washes of color redolent of a faded photograph. Unusual in its inclusion of people, the painting is autobiographical–it shows the artist and his family in front of their car. Captured with deadpan candor, this portrait of suburban normality assumes the poignancy of a time passed. 


  • America Is Hard to See, Kids

    Robert Bechtle, ’61 Pontiac, 1968

    Robert Bechtle, ’61 Pontiac, 1968


    Narrator: This is a picture of the artist Robert Bechtle’s own family. Maybe your family has posed for a photo recently.  

    BUT, unlike your family photos, this one is 5 feet tall and 7 feet across. Bechtle has taken an ordinary moment and immortalized it—making it into a really big painting. The size is extraordinary, even if the situation is not.

    Traditionally, artists made portraits where the subjects were posed and all dressed up. But Bechtle has done nearly the opposite: his family is so casual that the little boy in stripes could be about to walk or turn away.

    To make his paintings, Bechtle projected snapshots he had taken onto a canvas, traced the outlines, and then looked at the photo to fill in the colors.

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