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Robert Motherwell Photo

Robert Motherwell

American Painter and Printmaker

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: January 24, 1915 - Aberdeen, Washington

Died: July 16, 1991 - Provincetown, Massachusetts

Robert Motherwell Timeline

Important Art by Robert Motherwell

The below artworks are the most important by Robert Motherwell - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive (1943)
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Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive (1943)

Artwork description & Analysis: Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive is a direct reference to a photograph that Motherwell encountered of the murdered revolutionary, Pancho Villa. The work straddles the line between referential painting and the style that would become Abstract Expressionism, and includes several thematic relationships that appear throughout the artist's oeuvre. In its allusion to the Mexican revolution, this work also prefigures the themes that would drive Motherwell's seminal Elegy to the Spanish Republic series.

Gouache and oil with cut-and-pasted paper on cardboard - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

At Five in the Afternoon (c.1949)
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At Five in the Afternoon (c.1949)

Artwork description & Analysis: At Five in the Afternoon began as a small pen and ink drawing that Motherwell composed in 1948 to accompany a poem by Harold Rosenberg. A year later, Motherwell reinvented the drawing as a small painting and renamed the work after a line in the poem "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias," by Federico Garcia Lorca. This work acts as the first entry in Motherwell's Elegies to the Spanish Republic series and sets up a formal and aesthetic system that would define the entire series.

Casein on Composition board - Collection, Helen Frankenthaler, New York

Je t'aime No.2 (1955)
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Je t'aime No.2 (1955)

Artwork description & Analysis: Je t'aime No.2 serves as a prime example of Motherwell's second significant series of paintings, which he composed between 1953 and 1957, as his second marriage came to an end. The work exhibits energetic, emotionally charged brushwork, bright, evocative colors, and the artist's trademark ovoid and rectilinear forms. Written across the canvas is the French phrase "Je t'aime," ("I love you") an allusion to the lasting influence of Gallic culture on Motherwell's work, and, no doubt, a reference to the artist's personal anxieties during this time.

Oil on canvas - Collection, Mr. And Mrs. Gilbert Harrison, New York

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 (1971)
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Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 (1971)

Artwork description & Analysis: Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 is part of a series comprising more than 140 paintings, which Motherwell worked on throughout his long career. The series functioned as the artist's memorial to the Spanish Civil War, an event that had come to symbolize for him the human tragedies of oppression and injustice. No. 110 is typical in its stark black and white palette, and interplay of ovoid and bar-like rectilinear forms. What exactly those forms are intended to mean, though, has been the subject of great debate. Some compare them to architecture, or to ancient monuments, while others read them as phalluses and wombs, which, along with the pictures' somber palette, might suggest the cycle of life and death.

Acrylic with pencil and charcoal on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

The Blue Painting Lesson: A Study in Painterly Logic, number one of five (1973)
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The Blue Painting Lesson: A Study in Painterly Logic, number one of five (1973)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Blue Painting Lesson: A Study in Painterly, is part of a group of works composed between 1968 and 1972, known as the Opens series. It shares a simple but powerful formal construct with the rest of the series: a densely colored, almost monochromatic background highlighted by a two or three-sided box that enters the canvas from the top of the composition. This box is an abstract reference to the window views seen in the work of many European masters, and may also refer to the intersection of internal and external worlds in the life of the artist.

Oil on canvas - Collection, Dedalus Foundation, New York

Tobacco Roth-Handle (1974)
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Tobacco Roth-Handle (1974)

Artwork description & Analysis: Tobacco Roth-Handle is a synthesis of collage and printmaking techniques - two important strains in Motherwell's work. The central identifiable image in the print, a cigarette wrapper, is a personal reference; it is typical of the sort of ephemera from the artist's daily life that had begun to find its way into Motherwell's collages by the 1960s. Regarding his collages, Motherwell once said, "The part of my vocabulary that is not from inner pressure, but that is drawn from the external world, is from the social world. To pick up a cigarette wrapper or a wine label or an old letter or the end of a carton is my way of dealing with those things that do not originate in me, in my I."

Four-color lithograph and screenprint on HMP handmade paper - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Carnival of Harlequin (1924-25)
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Carnival of Harlequin (1924-25)

Artist: Joan Miró

Artwork description & Analysis: "I like everything about Miró," Motherwell wrote in a 1959 essay for Art News. "A sensitive balance between nature and man's works, almost lost in contemporary art, saturates Miró's art, so that his work, so original that hardly anyone has any conception of how original, immediately strikes us to the depths." Motherwell very much romanticized the role Miró played in the evolution of modern art, portraying him as an independent rogue of sorts, but also one who was invested in seeing other artists find their voice. Miró represented, in Motherwell's mind, the quintessential fearless artist who said and painted whatever he pleased.

Oil on canvas - The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Seated Bather (1930)
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Seated Bather (1930)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: Motherwell felt a strong kinship with Picasso; in particular, he shared Picasso's insistence on form as the bearer of a painting's meaning. In a 1954 essay Motherwell wrote for Perspectives, he cited a statement Picasso made in the 1930s (around the time Picasso began exploring the Surrealist, biomorphic forms found in Seated Bather): "Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? One loves the night flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them. While the painting everyone must understand." Motherwell connected with this statement, and believed it echoed his attitudes to his own body of work; he never tolerated others' attempts to understand it.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Home of the Welder (1945)
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Home of the Welder (1945)

Artist: David Smith

Artwork description & Analysis: Motherwell viewed his long-time friend David Smith as a true independent, someone who was "a cultivated man who knows his ancient and modern art intimately," but who also enjoyed drinking "Irish whiskey and Guinness stout." This sophisticated alpha-male type that Motherwell revered so was very much was in the tradition of Miró and Picasso. And Smith's sculpture, according to Motherwell, was much like his personal character: original to a fault. Motherwell playfully wrote of Smith, "..the workings of the greatest national economy the world has ever known [the U.S.] are inadequate, not only to absorb his prodigious amount of work, but even to exhibit much of it." Of Smith's early work (which includes Home of the Welder), Motherwell wrote, "[It] seemed to me to be more concerned with the beautiful; it was 'abstract,' harmonious, felt."

Steel - Tate Gallery, London



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Related Art and Artists

Being With (Etre Avec) (1946)
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Being With (Etre Avec) (1946)

Artist: Roberto Matta

Artwork description & Analysis: As one of Matta's "Social Morphology" paintings, Being With (Etre Avec) represents a direct response to the horrors of the Second World War. Matta's deep-seated dismay finds expression in the menacing mechanical contraptions and the contorted, violently violated humanoid forms that populate the painting. The figures here are reminiscent of both totemic art and Alberto Giacometti's sculptures. Furthermore, the influence of the contemporary Mexican muralists can be seen in this work's increased scale, at 87 x 180 inches, and Matta's explicit engagement with social issues.

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Bathers by a River (1917)
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Bathers by a River (1917)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse regarded this picture as one of the most important in his career, and it is certainly one of his most puzzling. He worked on it at intervals over eight years, and it passed through a variety of transformations. The painting evolved out of a commission from Matisse's Russian patron, Sergei Shchuckin, for two decorative panels on the subjects of dance and music, and, initially, the scheme for the picture resembled the idyllic scenes he had previously depicted in paintings such as Joy of Life (1905-06). However, his transformations gradually turned it into more of a confrontation with Cubism, and it is for this reason that the picture has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Although Matisse rejected Cubism, he certainly felt challenged by it, and this picture - along with many he painted from 1913 to 1917 - seems to be influenced by the style, since it is very unlike his previous, more decorative work. It is far more concerned with faithful representation of the structure of the human figure, and its position in space. The painting might be compared to The Backs series (1909-31), which also preoccupied Matisse the years he was working on Bathers, since both address the problem of depicting a three-dimensional figure against a flat background.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)
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Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso's Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle is typical of his Synthetic Cubism, in which he uses various means - painted dots, silhouettes, grains of sand - to allude to the depicted objects. This combination of painting and mixed media is an example of the way Picasso "synthesized" color and texture - synthesizing new wholes after mentally dissecting the objects at hand. During his Analytic Cubist phase Picasso had suppressed color, so as to concentrate more on the forms and volumes of the objects, and this rationale also no doubt guided his preference for still life throughout this phase. The life of the café certainly summed up modern Parisian life for the artists - it was where he spent a good deal of time talking with other artists - but the simple array of objects also ensured that questions of symbolism and allusion might be kept under control.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, London

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