Robert Motherwell - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Originally titled The French Coast, Robert Motherwell’s Souvenir de Californie, 1953–1955, is a tactile example of the artist’s collage practice and constant revisiting of art that is prevalent throughout his body of work. Tearing away bits of paper and leaving only traces with bits of glue residue, the present work is founded on a memory of the work underneath. The original work, The French Coast was exhibited in the artist’s 1953 solo exhibition at the Kootz Gallery. That title refers to the third line of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, written in 1867, which also served as a reference to other collaged works such as The End of Dover Beach, which utilized the same revisionist technique. Such works illustrate the physicality of tearing paper, which harkens back to Motherwell’s Abstract Expressionist roots.


    “The sea is calm to-night. / The tide is full, the moon lies fair / Upon the straits; on the French coast the light / Gleams and is gone.”
    —Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach, 1867


    The reverse of the present work.

    Dated by the artist as 1953–1955, the inscription on the reverse suggests that the artist reworked this collage over a three-year period, later adding a new title, Souvenir de Californie. The finished work was then exhibited under this title at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1956. This final title likely refers to Motherwell’s memories of California from when he lived there in the 1930s. With earth-toned hues and hints of sea blue poking out from beneath the collaged surface, Souvenir de Californie dually refers to both the tranquil California setting and to the French coast’s light.

    • Provenance

      Eleanor Ward (circa 1955)
      Andy Warhol, New York
      Sotheby's, New York, May 3, 1988, lot 3376
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, Robert Motherwell, April 6–25, 1953 (exhibited in its preliminary state; titled The French Coast)
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The One Hundred and Fifty-first Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, January 22–February 26, 1956, no. 164
      New London, Lyman Allyn Museum, A Contemporary Collection of Painting and Sculpture, Selected from the Collection of Eleanor Ward, May 16–September 16, 1965, n.p.

    • Literature

      "Auctions," Contemporanea: International Art Magazine, vol. I, no. 2, July/August 1988, p. 121 (illustrated)
      Jack Flam, Katy Rogers and Tim Clifford, eds., Robert Motherwell: Paintings and Collages, A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941-1991, Volume Three, Collages and Paintings on Paper and Paperboard, New Haven, 2012, no. C61, p. 52 (illustrated)
      Mel Gooding, Robert Motherwell: Collage, exh. cat., Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, 2013, p. 17 (illustrated)
      Jack Flam, Katy Rogers and Tim Clifford, eds., Motherwell: 100 Years, Milan, 2015, no. 87, p. 85 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Robert Motherwell

      American • 1915 - 1991

      One of the youngest proponents of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Robert Motherwell rose to critical acclaim with his first solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in 1944. Not only was Motherwell one of the major practicing Abstract Expressionist artists, he was, in fact, the main intellectual driving force within the movement—corralling fellow New York painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hoffman and William Baziotes into his circle. Motherwell later coined the term the "New York School", a designation synonymous to Abstract Expressionism that loosely refers to a wide variety of non-objective work produced in New York between 1940 and 1960.

      During an over five-decade-long career, Motherwell created a large and powerful body of varied work that includes paintings, drawings, prints and collages. Motherwell's work is most generally characterized by simple shapes, broad color contrasts and a dynamic interplay between restrained and gestural brushstrokes. Above all, it demonstrates his approach to art-making as a response to the complexity of lived, and importantly felt, experience.

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Souvenir de Californie

signed with the artist’s initials “RM” upper right; signed, titled and dated “Souvenir de Californie Robert Motherwell 1953-55" on the reverse
oil, casein, pasted papers and charcoal on board
16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Executed in 1953-1955.

Full Cataloguing

$50,000 - 70,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 November 2023