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Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell

(1915 - 1991)
Born: Aberdeen, Washington
Style: Abstract Expressionism
Famous Works:
  • Untitled (1945)
  • At Five in the Afternoon (1949)
  • Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 (1974)
Robert Motherwell, a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, grew up in an affluent family in San Francisco, California. He spent his undergraduate years at Stanford University, and went on to study art history at Columbia University in New York under Meyer Schapiro. This intellectual painter became friends with Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and André Breton, among other members of the Surrealist group, and decided to devote himself to painting in 1941. In 1944, Motherwell produced his first collages for a one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery. These collages included torn paper and expressive swaths of paint, and represented Motherwell's unique approach to Abstract Expressionism. In addition to collage, Motherwell worked within the mediums of drawing, printmaking, and painting. In the artist's best known series, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, broad slabs of black and white are offset by smaller regions of color. He addressed themes such as life, death, revolution, and violence, using abstract metaphors. Motherwell's strong academic background fortified his painting, as he found inspiration from literature and history. In addition, as a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement, his erudite dedication to his vision bolstered the tone of work he and his colleagues were making. Towards the end of his career he began painting large canvases inspired by the work of Color Field painters. Robert Motherwell found many outlets for his artistic drive. Teaching at universities, writing for periodicals, and a continuous exploration of art were all part of Motherwell's life.
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