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The Art Story Homepage Artists Robert Motherwell
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

"Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head. It is his real subject, of which everything he paints in both an homage and a critique, and everything he says is a gloss."

Robert Motherwell Signature

Summary of Robert Motherwell

Possessing perhaps the best and most extensive formal education of all the New York School painters, Robert Motherwell was well versed in literature, philosophy and the European modernist traditions. His paintings, prints and collages feature simple shapes, bold color contrasts and a dynamic balance between restrained and boldly gestural brushstrokes. They reflect not only a dialogue with art history, philosophy and contemporary art, but also a sincere and considered engagement with autobiographical content, contemporary events and the essential human conditions of life, death, oppression and revolution.

Key Ideas

Motherwell was an accomplished writer and editor, as well as an eloquent speaker. Through his teaching, lectures and publications, he became an unofficial spokesman and interpreter for the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Several key themes define Motherwell's work: the dialogue between repression and rebellion, between European modernism and a new American vision, and between formal and emotional approaches to art making.
Motherwell was an accomplished printmaker and an avid collagist, and he often used these techniques to engage with and respond to the influences of European modernism.
Robert Motherwell Photo

Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1915, but he would spend much of his childhood in the dry environs of central California, where he was sent in an effort to relieve his severe asthma. The son of a well-to-do and conservative bank chairman, Motherwell was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. From early on, though, Motherwell displayed an affinity for more intellectual and creative pursuits, and his early education included a scholarship to study at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.

Important Art by Robert Motherwell Important Art and Analysis

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)
Artwork Images Google images

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

More Robert Motherwell Artwork and Analysis:

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 (1971) The Blue Painting Lesson: A Study in Painterly Logic, number one of five (1973) Tobacco Roth-Handle (1974)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Robert Motherwell
Interactive chart with Robert Motherwell's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Show influences

Artists

Roberto MattaRoberto Matta
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Personal Contacts

Soren KierkegaardSoren Kierkegaard
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Charles BaudelaireCharles Baudelaire
Georg  HegelGeorg Hegel
Karl MarxKarl Marx

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
CubismCubism
SymbolismSymbolism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Years Worked: 1941 - 1991
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Cy TwomblyCy Twombly
Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler
Richard DiebenkornRichard Diebenkorn

Personal Contacts

Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Thomas B. HessThomas B. Hess
Robert RosenblumRobert Rosenblum
Dore AshtonDore Ashton

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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