Untitled Crown Point Press Nude (Legs Crossed), 1998
Untitled Crown Point Press Nude
(Foot Up), 1998
A key figure in American Art, Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010) was a persistently individualistic artist who took his own path in defiance of the ideology of the time.  With an unshakable concern for the figure, Oliveira was a prominent member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, along with Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff and others.  A resident of Palo Alto, he taught at Stanford University for 32 years as a Professor of Studio Art. In 1959, Oliveira gained early fame as a painter, when four of his works were selected by Peter Selz for his curatorial debut exhibition, New Images of Man, at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. 

  Nathan Oliveira’s passion is for continuing an inner-directed artistic tradition attached to the human subject…The evocation of mystery that the viewer experiences in Oliveira’s work derives from a depth of feeling refracted through artistic tradition and transmitted to the spectator by the artist’s hand.

– Peter Selz

Nathan Oliveira started exploring the theme of the solitary figure in the 1950s, following the dictates of his personal manifesto,“make things out of paint”. Standing apart from his Abstract Expressionist peers, Oliveira’s early inspiration and influence came from the Expressionist Max Beckmann, whom he studied with at Mills College in Oakland. He also had a great affinity for Giacometti, Dubuffet and de Kooning. They were artist’s artists; with de Kooning, he could discuss the elusiveness of the human figure and the ephemeral experience of seeing it within the canvas. Oliveira’s subjects were drawn from within, from his internal quest to understand the human condition and our collective need to understand our place in the universe. Oliveira painted to create spaces with no visible beginnings or boundaries. “I am an abstract painter who finds the figure.” His variations of the abstracted human figure in ambiguous, mysterious spaces were a constant theme throughout his career and can be seen in his paintings, monotypes, watercolors and sculptures.


Oliveira identified the most important characteristics of his work as chance, risk and gesture, which he combined with a personal concern for the more traditional aspects of figure painting. The apotheosis of his style evolved from his search for an expressive relationship between form and space that found resonance in his presentation of the single figure. The human touch, so often absent in Contemporary work, is always present in the work of Nathan Oliveira.



Academy of Art, Honolulu, HI

Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Art, San Francisco, CA

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France

Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH

The Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA 

The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX 

De Saisset Museum, University of Santa Clara, CA

E. & J. Pennell Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts, Los Angeles, CA

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Kent State University, Kent, OH

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Mills College, Oakland, CA

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

National Academy, New York, NY

National Collection Australia, Melbourne, Australia

National Collection of Fine Arts, Johnson Wax Collection, Washington, D.C.

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA

Oakland Art Museum, Oakland, CA

Orange County Museum of Art, Orange County, CA

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Stanford University Museum of Art, Stanford, CA 

St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

Tate Gallery, London, UK

University of California, Berkeley, CA

University of Houston, Houston, TX

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Wichita Museum of Art, Wichita, KS Yale University, New Haven, CT