Robert Motherwell, a major figure of the Abstract Expressionist generation, encompassed both the expressive brushwork of action painting and the breadth of scale and saturated hues of color field painting. He was a member of the New York School, a term he coined, which also included Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.
Studio with “Elegy to the Spanish Republic no. 100 (revisited)”.
During the late 1940s and 1950s Motherwell spent much of his time lecturing and teaching; he taught at Black Mountain College, NC, in 1950, and from 1951 to 1959 at Hunter College, New York. He also worked on three influential editorial projects: the Documents of Modern Art series, which he initiated in 1944 and which included his most important literary contribution to the history of modern art, the Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology (New York, 1951); Possibilities magazine, from 1947; and Modern Artists in America (New York, 1951), which he co-authored with Ad Reinhardt.
Motherwell’s path to becoming an abstract artist was through philosophy, art history, and poetry. He studied at Stanford, Harvard, and then Columbia, where he was introduced to émigré Surrealists (including Matta) by art historian Meyer Schapiro. His particular genesis as an abstractionist has its basis in Mallarmé, whose dictum “To paint, not the thing, but the effect it provides” was pivotal.
As arguably the most eloquent and intellectually accomplished of all the New York School painters, Robert Motherwell’s legacy is significant not only for the importance of his paintings, but also for the breadth and influence of his writing, editing and teaching.
Robert Motherwell & Helen Frankenthaler home. The yellow “chair” sculpture is by Barbara Cohen, Kenneth Noland, and Hans Hoffmann.
Robert Motherwell inside his adapted Quonset hut residence in Georgica, 1950. Photograph by Hans Namuth.
In his studio at 33 West 8th street, New York, 1945.
Robert Motherwell at work in his studio, 1952. Kay Bell Reynal, photographer.
Robert Motherwell, center, at the opening of the exhibition, Robert Motherwell, 1965. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.