Robert Motherwell - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York; Private Collection; Locks Gallery, Philadelphia; Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Robert Motherwell, 9 March – 4 April 1959; Baltimore,The Baltimore Museum of Art, Robert Motherwell: Meanings of Abstraction, 21 May – 30 July 2006

  • Literature

    Robert Motherwell: Paintings and Collages, New York: Dedalus Foundation (catalogue raisonné in preparation)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Motherwell was part of the first wave of Abstract Expressionists, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman whose work emerged after the Second World War throughout the 1940s. Clement Greenberg, in his championing of the work of the Abstract Expressionists, described how “content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything not itself” (‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’, 1939). This radical approach, inspired by the practice of the European avant-garde, was in reaction to the social realist art which at the time dominated America’s art scene.

    In 1948 Motherwell began a series of paintings which would come to define nearly twenty years of his career. The series comprised over one hundred paintings known as the Elegies to the Spanish Republic (1948–1967). Frontier No. 12 was painted in 1958 in the middle of this long period. The paintings were visual representations of Motherwell’s lamentation of the atrocities which took place during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). For Motherwell, the Spanish Civil War raised moral issues in the sense “that the world could, after all, regress”, and in 1948 he completed a small drawing accompanied by a poem written by Harold Rosenberg. It was this work that triggered the start of his painting series which formed Motherwell’s personal expression of deep sympathy towards the suffering that took place throughout the brutal war. As seen in Frontier No. 12, his use of black paint on a white canvas is symbolic of his practice, and of this body of work in particular. The stark contrast between the black paint against the white canvas becomes a visual metaphor of he starkness between life and death. Frontier No. 12 is a powerful abstract commemoration to the human suffering induced by war. Motherwell’s legacy remains amongst the work of the Abstract Expressionists who “sought to invent art that would reassert the highest ideals of humankind, create a new beginning and prove human beings capable of greatness and beauty” (Art Gallery of Ontario curatorial statement, quoted by Lee Parsons, ‘Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists’, World Socialist Web Site, August 2011).

    “Motherwell’s allusion to human mortality through a non-referential visual language demonstrates his admiration for French Symbolism, an appreciation he shared with his fellow Abstract Expressionist painters. Motherwell was particularly inspired by the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s belief that a poem should not represent some specific entity, idea, or event, but rather the emotive effect that it produces.”
    (Nancy Spector on Robert Motherwell, Guggenheim Collection Online)

  • 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.

    View More Works


Frontier No. 12

Oil on primed board.
38.1 × 45.7 cm (15 × 18 in).
Signed, titled and dated ‘FRONTIER, No. 12 Robert Motherwell 1958’ on the reverse.

£150,000 - 200,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

12 October 2011