Helen Frankenthaler - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short

    In her new studio in the woods of Cape Cod during the summer of 1967, Helen Frankenthaler created Head of the Meadow, a work situated in the pantheon of paintings in which her stain technique crystallized into breathtaking vistas of pure color. Executed during a time when she was making some of her best paintings to date, Head of the Meadow is a superb example from the body of work she executed while splitting time between New York and Provincetown, which presaged the monumental paintings of land, sky, and water she would paint later in her career. Soon after its completion, Head of the Meadow became the first work by Frankenthaler that Andy Williams, the now legendary singer behind such classics as “Moon River,” added to his budding collection of modern and contemporary art, in which the painting remained for decades. 

    “I really fell in love with Color Field because I just like color”
    — Andy Williams

    The present lot photographed in the home of Andy Williams.


  • Summer of '67

    Frankenthaler began spending her summers in Cape Cod in 1959 with her husband, fellow artist Robert Motherwell, whom she married the year prior. The couple would split time between Provincetown and New York for the next decade.

    While Frankenthaler initially worked from the same building overlooking the bay as Motherwell, in 1967 she moved to what she described as "my ‘tree-house’ studio, a studio on the second floor, in stands of pine.” It was in this new space that Frankenthaler began a series of vast atmospheric paintings, including Head of the Meadow.

    The summers Frankenthaler spent in Provincetown offered the painter the mental and physical space to push her signature staining technique to remarkable new heights. The new 

    Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler in front of their Provincetown home, August 1962. 
    environs engendered a period of daring experimentation and remarkable productivity for Frankenthaler, as evidenced in the sheer size and number of works she created there. As Karen Rosenberg observed, Frankenthaler began using the staining method, "more freely and on even larger canvases—emboldened, perhaps, by more capacious studios and proximity to water, but also by the more relaxed atmosphere.” 
    In the photographs Alexander Liberman took of Frankenthaler in her studio in the woods, he captured a vivacious artist in a light-filled space: a smiling Frankenthaler is shown at the far end of a monumental canvas that is laid directly on the floor. The borders of paint on the white wood that surround it are indicative of Frankenthaler’s distinct technique of pouring paint, thinned to the consistency of watercolor, directly onto the raw and unstretched canvas.

    This process of creation is notably reflected in the vertical variations of saturation in the blue and yellow expanses in Head of the Meadow; as faint imprints of the broad wooden planks of the studio floor, they speak to the different ways in which paint would pool and saturate both the canvas and the floor. As the artist noted, "I recall that there was a lot of liquid paint on the floor. The studio was flooded with color.” 

    Helen Frankenthaler in her Provincetown studio, 1968. Artwork © Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Referencing the eponymous beach a few miles outside of Provincetown, Head of the Meadow conjures a summery idyll: one can almost imagine the sensation of driving through the dense Cape Cod pine forest in the thick of summer, the narrow road opening up to an expansive view of the secluded, yet vast, beach. Many of Frankenthaler’s works from this period suggest aerial views, yet as with Motherwell's painting, her color fields are not meant to be viewed literally. 

    Head of the Meadow Beach,  Cape Cod.    
  • An Explosive Landscape

    Head of the Meadow is a painting filled with intimations of summer, sea and nature. Billowing fields of blue, yellow and green paint converge on the vast canvas just as ocean meets land. Together with masterpieces such as Indian Summer, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and Flood, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, both 1967, this painting captures the culminating moment of one of the most experimental and productive periods in Frankenthaler’s career. The significance of Frankenthaler’s experience in Cape Cod was recently subject to the exhibition Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and the Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York.

    Helen Frankenthaler, Indian Summer, 1967. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, Artwork ©  Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Back then, there was little to do in Provincetown except your work. It really forced you to connect with your work and with the people around you, your family and close friends” — Lise Motherwell


    By the time of the creation of Head of the Meadow, she was already widely known for pioneering the revolutionary soak-stain technique. It had been following her pivotal visit to Jackson Pollock’s studio, and encounter of his ink works on paper, that Frankenthaler created her seminal Mountains and Sea in 1952: her first work created by pouring thinned paint directly onto unprimed canvas, which would prove influential to artists such as Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis and mark the dawn of the Color Field Movement. During the summers Frankenthaler spent in Cape Cod, she began experimenting with her idiosyncratic staining method more freely and on a larger scale.


    Morris Louis, Alphi-Pi, 1960. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2019 Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Rights Administered by Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, All Rights Reserved.


    By 1963, as signaled by The Bay, Detroit Institute of Arts, the gestural quality of Frankenthaler’s earlier work dramatically gave way to all-over color fields where paint freely flows and pools like water across the canvas. Moving from using oil to diluted acrylic paint, Frankenthaler began painting color fields “as vast as Turner’s murky vistas.”[i] Embracing a larger scale was a bold move; for, as step-daughter Lise Motherwell pointed out, "making paintings that large, knowing they would be a challenge for anyone acquiring one, took a lot of courage.”[ii]

    Art critic Clement Greenberg considered color fields such as Head of the Meadow as the purest form of modern painting: effectively opening up the possibilities of Jackson Pollock’s revolutionary drip technique, Frankenthaler’s stain method enabled a “purely optical” experience of painting. The semi-transparent expanses of variegated color that stain the canvas weave draw attention to the flatness of the picture plane, freeing it from the shackles of illusory, pictorial space and instead emphasizing it as a literal, physical surface.


    “I think of my pictures as explosive landscapes, worlds and distances, held on a flat surface”
    —  Helen Frankenthaler

    Yet, while resolutely abstract, Frankenthaler’s work is also suffused with intimations to the natural and mental world. As Lise Motherwell indeed emphasized, "With Helen’s work, you have to talk about the environment, because it is so extraordinary. The color of the water changes depending on the sky. If the sky is blue, the water is a deep Mediterranean blue….A painting like The Bay (1963) reflects this. So do Head of the Meadow (1967) and Hurricane Flag. There are extraordinarily beautiful phenomena, sights she may have internalized and reimagined.”[iii]

    Indeed, while deftly controlling the interplay of form, color, and space, Frankenthaler embraces accident and intuition as the means to create
    her elusive yet evocative works — which she typically titled based on what the completed

    Hans Hofmann, Renate's Nantucket, 1965. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    picture suggested itself to her. As John Elderfield emphasized, “… the colors and the forms of her paintings occupy a terrain that is somewhere between description and metaphor — neither solely a pictorial likeness of a view of nature, nor solely a pictorial analogy of it created by imitating the process that formed it.”[iv]

  • Andy Williams

    The great music legend Andy Williams—who popularized timeless hits such as “Moon River” and “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” built an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art that included, among works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Franz Kline, as well as Helen Frankenthaler’s masterpiece Head of the Meadow, 1967.

    While fascinated by Abstract Expressionists such as Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Williams felt a particular affinity for such Color Field artists as Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.



    The present lot on the cover of Andy Williams’s studio album Love Story, 1970-1971. Columbia Records.
      It was during an art trip to New York that he acquired Frankenthaler’s masterpiece Head of the Meadow, 1967, from André Emmerich Gallery — marking the beginning of his decade-long support of Frankenthaler’s work.

    Holding a firm belief in sharing his art, he installed many of his works in his Moon River Theater in Branson, which opened in 1992; Frankenthaler’s Head of the Meadow, which he once highlighted as one of the first works he acquired from the artist, took a special place in his dressing room and on the cover of his studio album, “Love Story.”


    Throughout my life, I have always been collecting…I could not imagine a life without paintings” — Andy Williams


    [i] Bonnie Clearwater, "Helen Frankenthaler Remembered," Provincetown Arts, 2018, p. 48.

    [ii] Lise Motherwell, quoted in "Helen Frankenthaler’s Provincetown Years," Provincetown Arts, 2018, p. 42.
    [iii] Lise Motherwell, "Helen Frankenthaler’s Provincetown Years," Provincetown Arts, 2018, p. 43.
    [iv] John Elderfield, "Helen and High Water,” Gagosian Quarterly, August 8, 2018, online.

    • Provenance

      André Emmerich Gallery, New York
      Andy Williams, Palm Springs (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, New York, May 16, 2013, lot 215
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Norman, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Spring 2014 - March 2015 (on extended loan)

    • Literature

      Andy Williams, “Love Story”, 1971, studio album (partial installation view illustrated on the cover)
      Carter Ratcliff, "Architectural Digest Visits Andy Williams", Architectural Digest, July 1987, p. 44 (installation view illustrated; partial installation view illustrated, p. 42)
      Ellen Stern, "Moon River Realized", Architectural Digest, August 1993, p. 64 (partial installation view illustrated)
      Gerald Clarke, “Andy Williams: Artful Desert Living for the Singer and His Wife, Debbie”, Architectural Digest, December 2009, p. 133
      Christopher Busa, "Helen Frankenthaler’s Provincetown Years", Provincetown Arts, 2018, p. 43, online

Property formerly from the Collection of Andy Williams


Head of the Meadow

titled and dated ""Head of the Meadow" Summer 1967" on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas
83 7/8 x 124 1/4 in. (213.3 x 315.5 cm)
Painted in 1967.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $3,020,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020