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Visitors to Gallery 14 at the de Young immediately encounter the riot of geometric color that is Frank Stella’s impressive 12-foot-square painting, Lettre sur les aveugles II (1974). This vibrant work was the first of Stella’s paintings to enter the permanent collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Frank Stella (American, b. 1936). Lettre sur les aveugles II, 1974. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Museum Purchase, Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions. 2013.1

The enormous painting is one of the largest works from the Stella’s aptly named Concentric Square series, which he began in 1962. The scale of this work transforms it from a mere painting into an enveloping and experiential color field.

The work’s title, Lettre sur les aveugles II, refers to a famous essay by the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784), who is often considered the first modern art critic. The essay, “Lettre sur les aveugles à l’usage de ceux qui voient” (“Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See,” 1749), was prompted in part by recent medical advancements that enabled doctors to restore vision to some patients who had been blind since birth. These operations inspired great speculation on the nature of vision, a subject that aligned with Stella’s conceptual and perceptual interests.