Motherwell, Robert

Motherwell, Robert,

1915–91, American painter and writer, b. Aberdeen, Wash. Motherwell taught art at several colleges and during the early 1940s he became a cogent theoretician of abstract expressionismabstract expressionism,
movement of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the mid-1940s and attained singular prominence in American art in the following decade; also called action painting and the New York school.
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. His canvases are characterized by large, amorphous shapes, painted in strong, austere colors. His most famous body of work is a series of over 100 paintings entitled Elegy for the Spanish Republic (1948–90). He also created numerous masterful collages and more than 500 editions of prints. He was married for several years to the painter Helen FrankenthalerFrankenthaler, Helen
, 1928–2011, American painter, b. New York City. The youngest of the women who formed part of abstract expressionism's second generation, Frankenthaler was greatly influenced by Jackson Pollock, with whom she studied.
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. Motherwell edited Documents of Modern Art (15 vol., 1944–61), Modern Artists in America (1952), The Dada Painters and Poets (1951), and Documents of 20th-Century Art (1971–80). His keen critical powers and abundant intellectual gifts are evident in his many essays, brought together in The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell (1993).


See S. Engberg, Robert Motherwell: The Complete Prints 1940–1991 (2004) and J. Flam et al., Robert Motherwell, Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné (2012); biographies by H. H. Arnason and S. P. Breckinridge (1982), D. Ashton and J. Flam (1983), and R. S. Mattison (1989).

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Motherwell, Robert

(1915–91) painter; born in Aberdeen, Wash. He studied at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (1932), majored in philosophy at Stanford University (1932–36) and Harvard (1937–38), and worked under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University (1940–41). He was based in New York City, and his first paintings were influenced by Piet Mondrian, as in Spanish Picture with Window (1942). By 1948 he began his black and white oils, Elegies to the Spanish Republic (1948–68). A later series, Open (1968–75), is based on an exploration of windows and walls. His reputation as a theorist and painter within the astract expressionist school continues to grow.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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