Find, Learn, Price Art
Enjoy the comprehensive art database we've compiled since 1987
Membership Details
Images, sales charts, bios, signatures, 30 artist Alerts and more ...
Art auction records:  Millions of references for pricing research
Or, register for Free Alerts
To track 10 artists.

Already a member?  Sign in here

Nathan Oliveira

 (1928 - 2010)
Nathan Joseph Roderick Oliveira was active/lived in California.  Nathan Oliveira is known for abstract figurative painting, graphics.

Nathan Oliveira

Biography from the Archives of askART

Nathan Oliveira was born in Oakland, California to parents of Portuguese descent. As a youth he was interested in art and music, and considered the possibility of becoming a coronetist in a jazz band.  However, during his high school years he visited the California Palace of the Legion of Honor where he saw a Rembrandt painting that profoundly influenced the course of his life.  For a time he attempted to study advertising art before enrolling in the California College of Arts and Crafts* in Oakland with the intention of pursuing a career as a portrait painter.

During the course of his college studies he began to move from portraits to a more expressionistic and non specific figuration.  Despite the shift to a more abstract mode of expression, Oliveira's work has always remained tied to recognizable content rather than pure abstraction*.  He felt it was important to make something out of this abstract language, concrete images in which one can believe.

Oliveira graduated in 1951, then stayed to earn a Masters of Fine Arts Degree and to teach printmaking before being drafted into the Army.  Completing his stint in the Army, Oliveira returned to Oakland to begin teaching and serving as head of the graphic arts department at the California School of Fine Arts.  He began to achieve recognition and awards with several foundation fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship* in 1958, and the inclusion of his work in the 1959 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, 'New Images of Man'.

Then, after an intensely productive five-year period, he suffered growing doubt and inability to work.  Despite this fallow period, his work continued to receive public recognition and he was invited to join the faculty at Stanford University to teach painting and printmaking.  Throughout his career, Oliveira has been involved in printmaking, producing lithographs and monotypes, ever since his undergraduate days.  Eventually working through the period of self-doubt, he started over again with a steady acceleration of output.

In the seventies, Oliveira's work moved away from figurative work to abstractions and then to the 'site' paintings of the eighties.  More recently, he has returned to painting the figure, using a live model instead of deriving images from his imagination as he had done in the past.

He has exhibited widely including 1984.  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, "Places Without Location: The Paintings if Nathan Oliveira".

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University Nebraska-Lincoln website:

* For references for these terms and others, see AskART Glossary

Biography from Krevsky Fine Art
1928 Born: Oakland, CA
1950 Mills College, Oakland, CA
1951 BFA, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA
1952 MFA, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA
1952 - 1953 Teacher, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA
1955 - 1956 Teacher, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA
1957 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant
1958 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
1974 Artist Grant-National Endowment for the Arts
1988 Endowed Chair-Ann O'Day Maples Prof. in the Arts, Stanford, CA
1994 Elected Fellow-American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Cambridge, MA
1964 - 1996 Teacher, Studio Arts, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

2005 DC Moore Gallery, New York, NY
2004 "Contemporary Prints," National Academy Museum, New York, NY
2003 "Oil Paintings and recent monotypes," Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC
2003 "Solitary Shape Figure Watercolors," Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
2003 Recent Paintings and Monotypes, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
2002 The Art of Nathan Oliveira, retrospective, San Jose Museum of Art, guest curated by Peter Selz. Traveling to: Neuberger Museum of Art, Puchase College, State University of New York; Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA; Orange Count Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA (solo)
2002 "Nude Watercolors," University of Southern Oregon
2001 "Singular," John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2001 Recent Paintings and Monotypes, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
1998 Recent Paintings and Monotypes, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
1998 "Prints/Copperplate Figures," Crown Point Press, San Francisco, CA
1998 "Centennial Exhibition 1989 - 1998," American Academy of Arts & Letters, New York, NY
1997 "Important Bay Area Paintings, 1954-1960," John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
1997 Variations in Time/ Nathan Olivera/ Monotypes and Monoprints, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA (solo)
Singular Impressions: The Monotype in America, John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Singular Impressions, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
1996 Recent Paintings and Monotypes, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
1995 Nathan Oliveira: The Windhover, Dedicated to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Stanford University, Standford,CA; traveling to Pepperdine University, Malibu,CA (solo)
1993 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Recent Paintings and Monotypes, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
Works on Paper by Nathan Oliveira-Gifts from the John Young Collection, The Contemporary Museum Honolulu, HI
1992 Nathan Oliveira: Figurative Work 1958-92, The Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College Moraga, CA
1991 Nathan Oliveira Painting & Works on Paper, 1959-1991, Salander O'Reilly Galleries New York, NY
American Realism and Figurative Art: 1952-1990, The Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan; traveling to Sogo Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan; Tokushima Modern Art Museum, Tokushima, Japan; Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Japan; Kochi Prefectural Museum of Folk Art, Kochi, Japan
1989 Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art San Francisco (traveled)
1989 Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950 - 1965, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; traveled to Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
1986 Autunno in Toscana 1986, Recent Monotypes, Il Bisonte Galleria d'Arte Florence, Italy
Public and Private: American Prints Today, The Brooklyn Museum Brooklyn, NY
1985 Contemporary American Monotypes, The Chrysler Museum Norfolk, VA
1984 Nathan Oliveira: A Survey Exhibition, 1957 - 83, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA: traveling to Laguna Beach Museum of Art, CA; Madison Art Center, Madison, WI; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NE; Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK. Catalogue (solo)
1981 Contemporary American Prints and Drawings 1940-80, National Gallery of Art Washington, DC
1980 Nathan Oliveira: Swiss Sites Series, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA (solo)
Nathan Oliveira Print Retrospective: 1949-1980, The Art Museum and Galleries, California State University, Long Beach, CA; traveling to Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA; Fresno Art Center, Fresno, CA; University Art Collections, Matthews Center, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL; University Art Gallery, State University of New York, Albany, NY; Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. Catalogue (solo)
FIAC 79, Grand Palais Paris, France
The Painterly Print, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; traveling to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
1977 Perceptions of the Spirit in Twentieth-Century American Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana; traveled to University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA; Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, San Antonia, TX; Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio. Catalogue
1976 Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, CA
1973 Nathan Oliveira: Recent Works on Paper, Linda Farris Gallery Seattle, WA
1969 Watercolors, Picadilly Gallery London, The United Kingdom
1969 Nathan Oliveira: Works on Paper, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, Ca
1968 The Humanist Tradition in Contemporary American Painting, New School Art Center, New York, NY; catalogue
1967 1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, , Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY
1965 Ten Years of Printmaking, San Francisco Museum of Art Sa Francisco, CA
1964 Contemporary Sculptors and Painters as Printmakers, The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY
Nieuwe Realisten ( New Realism ), Haags Germeentemuseum, The Hague, Netherlands
1963 Major Comprehensive Exhibition of Five Years Work, Nathan Oliveira, San Francisco Museum of Art San Francisco, CA
1962 Recent Painting U.S.A.: The Figure, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY: traveling to Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, OH; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, CO; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, MO; San Francisco, CA; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; catalogue
1961 Nathan Oliveira: Paintings and Drawings, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX (solo)
1959 New Image of Man, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Paul Kantor Gallery Beverly Hills, CA

2002 'Nathan Oliveira', by Peter Selz.  With an introduction by Susan Landauer and essay by Joann Moser, University of California Press

Biography from LewAllen Galleries
Nathan Oliveira is regarded today as one America's great masters of extracting profound meaning from diaphanous images of the human figure. His paintings, works on paper and sculpture afford succinct visual presentiments from the artist's observed and inner-imaginative realms. His work explores existential complexities of man's engagement with the world. In a career that spanned 60 years, Oliveira bucked prevailing trends in the art world of his time and devoted himself to one overarching objective: to deliver in his work the closest possible sense of his experience and imagination exploring the mysteries of the human condition.

Oliveira was born in Oakland in 1928 to first generation Portuguese immigrants. His father was a fisherman and cabinetmaker and separated from his mother when the artist was one year old. Oliveira was raised by his mother, aunt and maternal grandmother in a small flat in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco, where his mother and aunt worked in a glove shop. In 1947, Oliveira enrolled at the California College of Arts and Craft, where he would eventually teach printmaking.

Oliveira was a part of an important group of San Francisco-area painters known as the Bay Area Figurative movement that had returned in the early 1950s to the use of the human figure in their painting. It was a time when non-objective abstraction was thought the only logical route for a young painter. Against the trend of Abstract Expressionism, this group -including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park and Elmer Bischoff -developed a response that moved away from purely non-representational work and, with a renewed focus on the figure, developed into one of the most important post-World War II art movements on the West Coast.

Nathan Oliveira reached a pinnacle moment in his artistic career when four of his paintings were included in the New Images of Man show at MOMA in 1959. The curator Peter Selz's audacious choice to include the young artist of Portuguese descent with the who's who of New York became the catalyst for Oliveira's initiation into contemporary fine art. The magnificent exhibition exposed his figurative work and soon after the MOMA acquired one of his pieces for the permanent collection. Oliveira was later shown in the Paris Biennial, and gained gallery representation in Los Angeles and New York before the beginning of the 1960s.

While the bay area figurative painters inspired and influenced Oliveira -he taught and worked beside several of them -he was somewhat of an enigma to the movement. The majority of his work is more informed by European modernists, such as Edvard Munch, Giacometti, and Francis Bacon. Another, German exile Max Beckmann, taught Oliveira in the summer of 1950 at Mills College in Oakland. These artists, like Oliveira, were dealing with existential angst and the issues of the human situation that were driving social upheavals of 20th century life.

Oliveira eventually went on to work and teach at Stanford University for more than thirty years. When he retired in 1995, he was honored with a show of his monumental Windhover paintings, which are planned to be permanently displayed in the Windhover Contemplation Center, a building dedicated solely to this series of work. He has received numerous awards and grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship that propelled his early career. In 1994 he was elected Academician of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1996, he received an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute. Two major traveling retrospectives have honored his work, "Nathan Oliveira: A Survey Exhibition 1957-1984" in 1984 at SF MOMA. "The Art of Nathan Oliveira", curated by long time friend and colleague Peter Selz, premiered in 2002 at the San Jose Museum of Art.

His work has been celebrated in numerous exhibitions in premier museums internationally including the Museum of Fine Arts of San Francisco, the Smithsonian Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Amon Carter Museum, San Francisco MOMA, the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and other international venues in Japan, Spain, and Portugal.

Nathan Oliveira died in November 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Share an image of the Artist

  Full access to biographies is
  free each Friday
photo by Glenn Matsumura

About  Nathan Oliveira

Born:  1928 - Oakland, California
Died:   2010 - Palo Alto, California
Known for:  abstract figurative painting, graphics