Robert Bechtle (born May 14, 1932) is an American painter. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts (1954) and Master of Fine Arts (1958) from the California College of Arts and Crafts, now the California College of the Arts, in Oakland, California.
Except for his military service in Germany, Bechtle has lived all his life in the Bay Area; and his art is centered on scenes from everyday life.
He started drawing at a young age and, with encouragement from his teachers and his family, pursued a future as an artist. By submitting a portfolio of artwork to a national competition, Bechtle won a scholarship that paid for his first year of college. When he graduated, he was drafted and sent to Berlin, where he painted murals in the Mess Hall and delighted in visiting European museums. Besides making paintings, watercolors, and drawings—he is an accomplished printmaker. Bechtle began in lithography but, after 1982 when Crown Point Press began publishing his prints, worked mainly in etching.
He taught at San Francisco State University (1968- 8–99) and lives in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood.
Along with John Baeder, Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Richard McLean, and Ralph Goings, Bechtle is considered to be one of the earliest Photorealists. By the mid-1960s, he had started developing a style and subject matter that he has maintained over his career. Working from his own photographs, Bechtle creates paintings described as photographic. Taking inspiration from his local San Francisco surroundings, he painted friends and family and the neighborhoods and street scenes, paying special attention to automobiles. Bechtle's brushwork is barely detectable in his photo-like renditions. His paintings reveal his perspective on how things look to him, the color, and the light of a commonplace scene. Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker that in 1969, when he first noticed a Bechtle painting, he was “rattled by the middle-class ordinariness of the scene.” As he looked more closely, he discovered “a feat of resourceful painterly artifice” that he gradually realized was “beautiful.” The article concludes: “Life is incredibly complicated, and the proof is that when you confront any simple, stopped part of it you are stupefied.”
Bechtle is represented by the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York City, and Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco.
Bechtle has created prints with the Crown Point Press in San Francisco since 1982.
Robert Bechtle's work has been exhibited internationally. Museum collections that include his artwork are: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Oakland Museum of California in northern California; the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.Retrospective exhibits
The Oakland Museum of California (OMA) held a retrospective exhibit in 2000 of Bechtle's paintings, "California Classic: Realist Paintings by Robert Bechtle".
A major retrospective exhibit and the first full–scale survey of the artist's work, "Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective," was organized and exhibited by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in 2005, and travelled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.