Robert Motherwell


Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991) was an American abstract expressionist painter, printmaker, and editor of The Dada Painters and Poets: an Anthology. He was one of the youngest of the New York School, which also included Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

Trained in philosophy, Motherwell then became an artist regarded as among the most articulate spokesmen and the founders of the abstract expressionist painters. He was known for his series of abstract paintings and prints which touched on political, philosophical and literary themes, such as the Elegies to the Spanish Republic.

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Motherwell was a major figure of the Abstract Expressionist generation, his work encompassing the automatism of the Surrealists, the expressive brushworks of action painting, and the saturated hues of field painting. At the age of eleven, he was awarded a fellowship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, and went on to the California School of Fine Arts in 1932. He received his BA in philosophy from Stanford University in 1936. Motherwell began his career as a painter in 1939 in Paris, where he had his first solo exhibition, and studied art history from 1940 to 1941 at Columbia University in New York. There he met Roberto Matta, Meyer Schapiro, and other exiled European artists associated with Surrealism. Emotionally charged brushwork and severely structured abstract were painted during this period, but in 1943, Motherwell produced a series of dark, menacing works in Response to World War II. The work for which he is best known, the series "Elegy to the Spanish Republic XXXIV" (1953-1954), are large abstracts that reflect his generation's despair at the lost cause of the Spanish Civil War. During the 1950s, Motherwell spent most of his time lecturing and teaching, notably at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was during this time he worked on his most influential literary achievement, "The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology" (New York, 1951). In 1952, Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt produced the journal "Modern Artists in America." Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler were married from 1958 to 1971. From 1968 to 1972, Mortherwell worked on a series of paintings called "Open," which reflected the new style of color field painting. His later works returned to more traditional Abstract Expressionist vocabulary.

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United States


Artist, author, collagist, editor, graphic artist, lecturer, painter, publisher

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Robert Motherwell, Robert Burns Motherwell

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Information from the Getty Research Institute's Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License. Accessed June 9, 2024.