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date: 29 October 2020

Frankenthaler, Helenfree

Updated in this version

updated

American, 20th century, female.

Born 12 December 1928, in New York; died 27 December 2011, in Darien (Connecticut).

Painter, lithographer.

Action Painting, Colour Field Painting, Post-Painterly Abstraction.

New York School.

Helen FRANKENTHALER: signature or monogram

Helen Frankenthaler was a pupil of Rufino Tamayo, at the Dalton School in New York City, and of Paul Feeley at Bennington College. In 1949, she attended Meyer Shapiro’s courses at Columbia University and, in 1950, Hans Hofmann’s summer school in Provincetown. In 1958, she married fellow artist Robert Motherwell.

While with Tamayo, Frankenthaler learned how to control spontaneity by technique and developed a taste for colour. However, her real training began with Feeley, who helped her to understand Cubism, while with Hofmann she was encouraged to eliminate the subject. She also responded to the influences of Wassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky, though it was Pollock’s work that proved the most decisive influence. A meeting with him at his Long Island studio in 1951 persuaded her to abandon the traditional use of materials and to work on canvases stretched on the floor. Rejecting both drawing and gestural painting, she developed a technique for soaking or staining canvas, in which liquid colours were thrown or poured on to the surface and allowed to spread naturally. She first used this technique in the creation of Mountains and Sea (1952–1953), which while abstract, evoked elements of the coastline of Nova Scotia, which she had recently visited. Staining gives colour an autonomy of form, often blurred, free from the intervention of the artist and, indeed, for certain American artists, any forethought about the work was associated with academicism.

This procedure, which identifies Frankenthaler with Action Painting, placed her at the centre of post-war American abstract painting and was later adopted by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski. What distinguished her method from Pollock’s was the use of very liquid colours applied over white, unprimed canvas, which became deeply absorbed, eliminating effects of depth or transparency. For Louis, this technique, which later became known as Chromatic Abstraction, provided the bridge ‘between Pollock and what is possible’. After 1960, Frankenthaler began to use it in a more masterly manner, projecting acrylic paint on to the canvas by different methods and creating shapes with firmer outlines. She also exploited increasingly fluid monochrome colour, pushing the other colours to the edges and achieving an effect sometimes similar to Rothko’s Colour Field painting. From time to time, Frankenthaler would change her work by adding new elements, such as calligraphy or impasto, or even incorporating famous paintings, as in Portrait of Margherita Trip, after Rembrandt, of 1980. In 1975, she started to make painted ceramics. Although differences between the various techniques of dripping have become less significant with time, Frankenthaler’s importance in American painting is largely due to her development of a new form of automatism for a generation of artists inspired by Surrealism.

Frankenthaler took part in many group exhibitions, including: 1955, 1958, 1961, Carnegie International, Pittsburgh; 1958, Nature in Abstraction, Whitney Museum, New York; 1959, Documenta II, in Kassel, and the Paris Biennale des Jeunes Artistes; 2002, The Big Americans, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Solo shows include: 1961, Paris; 1962, Milan; 1969 and 1989, retrospectives, Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1984, graphic works, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York; 2003, Frankenthaler: Paintings on Paper (1949–2002), Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami.

Group Exhibitions

1951, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, NY

1953, Nine Women Painters, Bennington College Gallery, , VT

1955, The Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA

1957, Artists of the New School: Second Generation, Jewish Museum, New York, NY

1958, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

1964, The Tate Gallery, London, England

1965, Painting without a Brush, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA

1966, American Landscape – A Changing Frontier, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

1969–1970, Prints by Four New York Painters: Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

1974, The Great Decade of American Abstraction: Modernist Art 1960–1970, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX

1976, 30 Years of American Printmaking, Including the 10th National Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, NY

1979, Hans Hofmann as Teacher: Drawings by his Students, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

1980, The Fifties: Aspects of Painting in New York, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

1982, The New York School, Four Decades: The Guggenheim Museum Collection and Major Loan, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

1983, Six Major Painters: Francis, Frankenthaler, Gottlieb, Hofmann, Louis & Stella: 1952–1962, Andrew Emmerich Gallery, New York, NY

1985, Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, Marisa del Re Gallery, New York, NY

1987, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell: New Graphic Works, Nan Miller Gallery, Rochester, NY

1993, Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolf Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell on Paper, Knoelder & Company, New York, NY

1996, Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

1998, Four American Painters: Frankenthaler, Noland, Olitski, Poons, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England

2000, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA

2002, New York Renaissance: Masterworks from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy

2005, Color Field Paintings of the 1960s, Jacobson Howard Gallery, New York, NY

2007, The Abstract Impulse: Fifty Years of Abstraction at the National Academy, 1956–2006, National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts, New York, NY

2008, Action/Abstraction : Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940–1976, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY

2009, Artistes Femmes dans les Collections de Centre Pompidou (Female Artists in the Pompidou Centre Collections), Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris, France

2014, Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, Turner Contemporary, Margate, England

2015, The New York School, 1969: Henry Geldzahler at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY

2016, Women of Abstract Expressionism, Denver Art Museum, CO

Solo Exhibitions

1960, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY (retrospective)

1969, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (travelling exhibition in Europe) (retrospective)

1972, Portland Museum of Art, OR

1973, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

1980, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA (travelling exhibition) (retrospective of prints)

1985, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, MA (travelling exhibition) (retrospective of works on paper)

1989, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX (travelled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Detroit Institute of Art, MI) (retrospective of paintings)

1993, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (travelling exhibition in the United States and Japan) (retrospective of prints)

1998, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (also presented at the Bilbao, and Berlin branches)

2002, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (travelled to Naples Art Museum, Miami, FL; Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh) (retrospective of woodcuts)

2003, Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL (also presented at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh) (retrospective of paintings on paper)

2005, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

2007, Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery, Bennington College, NY (steel sculpture)

2015, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Buffalo (Albright-Knox AG)

Geneva (MAH): Passport (1953)

Los Angeles (Los Angeles County MA)

New York (MoMA): Jacob’s Ladder (1957); Mauve District (1966)

New York (Whitney Mus. of American Art)

Paris (MNAM-Centre de création industrielle): Spring Bank (1974)

Pittsburgh (Carnegie MA): The Facade (1954, oil on canvas)

Richmond (Virginia MFA): Mother Goose Melody (1959, oil on canvas)

Syracuse (Everson MA): The Human Edge (1967, acrylic); Mattress I (1975, earthenware)

Vienna (Mus. Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig): Salome (1978)

Washington, DC (Hirshhorn Mus. and Sculpture Garden)

Washington, DC (NGA): Wales (1966, acrylic/canvas); Nature Abhors a Vacuum (1973, acrylic/canvas)

Auction Records

New York, 26 Oct 1972: Hanging Garden, USD 15,000

Los Angeles, 22 Jan 1973: Yellow Canon (1968) USD 6,500

London, 3 April 1974: Carnival Overture, GBP 7,800

New York, 6 May 1976: Yellow Span (aquatint, 14 × 18½ ins/35.5 × 47.3 cm) USD 1,000

New York, 27 May 1976: Ridge (1973, acrylic/canvas, 85¾ × 133 ins/218 × 338 cm) USD 14,000

New York, 17 Nov 1977: Swan Lake no. 2 (1961, acrylic/canvas, 93 × 93½ ins/236 × 237.5 cm) USD 41,000

New York, 31 March 1978: Lot’s Wife (1971, coloured lithograph, triptych, 130 × 36½ ins/330.2 × 92.7 cm) USD 3,300

New York, 16 May 1980: Untitled (1965, mixed media, 18 × 23¾ ins/45.7 × 60.3 cm) USD 4,750

New York, 8 Nov 1983: Arriving in Africa (1970, acrylic/canvas, 82 × 117¾ ins/208.5 × 299 cm) USD 60,000

New York, 3 May 1984: Mulberry Essence (1977, woodcut in colour, 39¼ × 18¾ ins/100 × 47.5 cm) USD 12,000

New York, 2 May 1985: Boulevard (1973, acrylic/canvas, 79¼ × 257 ins/201.2 × 652.8 cm) USD 65,000

New York, 14 Nov 1987: White Portal (1967, coloured lithograph, 19 × 14½ ins/48.5 × 37 cm) USD 4,000

New York, 3 May 1988: Face of a Landscape (acrylic/paper, 22¾ × 15¾ ins/57.8 × 40 cm) USD 20,900

New York, 8 Oct 1988: Green and Beyond (1979, acrylic/canvas, 51½ × 61½ ins/130.8 × 156.2 cm) USD 40,700

New York, 9 Nov 1988: Reunion (1969, acrylic/canvas, 67 × 35½ ins/170.2 × 90.3 cm) USD 99,000

London, 1 Dec 1988: Recumbent in a Square (1961, oil on canvas, 36 × 48 ins/91.5 × 122 cm) GBP 57,200

New York, 14 Feb 1989: Mars (1963, acrylic/canvas, 89 × 47½ ins/226.2 × 120.7 cm) USD 71,500

New York, 3 May 1989: Cravat (1973, acrylic/canvas, 62¾ × 58¾ ins/159.4 × 149.2 cm) USD 220,000

New York, 5 Oct 1989: Deepest August (1978, acrylic/canvas, 94½ × 167 ins/240 × 424.2 cm) USD 60,500

New York, 7 Nov 1989: Orange Shapes in a Frame (acrylic/canvas, 93 × 74¼ ins/236.5 × 188.3 cm) USD 649,000

New York, 8 May 1990: Yellow Chenille (oil on canvas, 93½ × 120 ins/237.5 × 304.8 cm) USD 715,000

New York, 4 Oct 1990: Aladdin (1979, acrylic/canvas, 50¾ × 46¼ ins/129 × 117.5 cm) USD 82,500

New York, 14 Feb 1991: Golden Day (1967, acrylic/canvas, 93 × 81½ ins/236.2 × 207 cm) USD 93,500

New York, 25–26 Feb 1992: Yellow Crater (oil on canvas, 80¾ × 68¾ ins/205.1 × 174.6 cm) USD 159,500

New York, 6 Oct 1992: April I (1963, oil on paper, 17 × 14 ins/43.2 × 35.6 cm) USD 8,250

New York, 19 Nov 1992: Emerson Series III (1965, acrylic/paper, 18 × 23¾ ins/45.7 × 60.3 cm) USD 7,150

New York, 3 May 1993: Yellow Lightning (1963, oil on canvas, 53½ × 69½ ins/135.9 × 176.5 cm) USD 200,500

New York, 9 Nov 1993: Swan Lake II (1961, oil on canvas, 93 × 93½ ins/236.2 × 237.5 cm) USD 244,500

New York, 3 May 1994: Blue Chenille (oil on canvas, 117¼ × 68¾ ins/297.5 × 174.9 cm) USD 189,500

London, 27 Oct 1994: Untitled (1976, acrylic/paper, 28 × 23½ ins/71 × 60 cm) GBP 5,750

New York, 5 May 1996: Nepenthe (1972, etching and aquatint, 15¾ × 24¼ ins/40 × 61.5 cm) USD 2,300

New York, 9 May 1996: Blue Right-Angle (1969, acrylic/canvas, 106 × 88½ ins/269.2 × 224.8 cm) USD 104,250

New York, 20 Nov 1996: Mist (1984, acrylic/canvas, 61½ × 72¼ ins/156.2 × 183.5 cm) USD 46,000

New York, 21 Nov 1996: Untitled (1973, acrylic/canvas, 28½ × 27 ins/72.4 × 68.5 cm) USD 28,750

New York, 7 May 1997: High Frequency (1970, acrylic/canvas, 71¼ × 60¼ ins/181 × 153 cm) USD 46,000

New York, 8 May 1997: Cats Green (1967, acrylic/canvas, 44½ × 25½ ins/113.3 × 64.8 cm) USD 34,500

New York, 17 Feb 1999: Tantric (1977, acrylic on canvas, 70 × 67 ins/177 × 171 cm) USD 40,000; Untitled (acrylic on canvas, 96 × 78 ins/244 × 198 cm) USD 88,000

New York, 10 May 2000: Arcadia (1962, oil on canvas, 89 × 81 ins/225 × 205 cm) USD 115,000

New York, 16 Nov 2000: Winter Blue (1983, acrylic on canvas, 52 × 89 ins/131 × 226 cm) USD 75,000

New York, 16 May 2001: Summer View (1963, oil on canvas, 60 × 46 ins/153 × 116 cm) USD 105,000

New York, 17 May 2001: Dusk (acrylic on canvas, 34 × 27 ins/86 × 69 cm) USD 155,000

New York, 16 May 2002: Harbinger (acrylic on canvas, 54 × 95 ins/136 × 241 cm) USD 42,500

New York, 14 Nov 2002: Devil’s Mist (acrylic on canvas, 79 × 76 ins/201 × 192 cm) USD 140,000

New York, 11 Nov 2003: Mountain Storm (1955, oil on canvas, 72 × 48 ins/183 × 122 cm) USD 450,000

New York, 12 Nov 2003: Courtyard of El Greco’s House (1959, oil on canvas, 46 × 61 ins/116 × 154 cm) USD 200,000

New York, 13 May 2004: Big Dipper (acrylic on canvas, 82 × 52 ins/208 × 131 cm) USD 120,000

New York, 15 Sept 2004: Sea Strip (1965, acrylic on canvas, 52 × 39 ins/133 × 99 cm) USD 170,000

New York, 11 May 2005: Off White Square (1973, acrylic on canvas, 79½ × 255 ins/202 × 648 cm) USD 419,200

New York, 9 Nov 2005: Hofburg Palace (1956, oil on canvas, 69 × 79 ins/175 × 201 cm) USD 688,000 (premium)

Chicago, 26–27 Sept 2006: The Sound of the Bassoon (oil on canvas, 103 × 252 ins/262 × 640 cm) USD 411,200 (premium)

New York, 15 Nov 2006: Another Sea (1979, acrylic on canvas, 55½ × 71¼ ins/141 × 181 cm) USD 475,200 (premium)

New York, 17 May 2007: Glow II (1968, acrylic on canvas, 75 × 69¼ ins/191 × 176 cm) USD 622,400 (premium)

New York, 15 Nov 2007: Cloud Harbor (1974, acrylic on canvas, 44 × 92 ins/112 × 234 cm) USD 601,000 (premium)

New York, 15 May 2008: Nadir Rising (1974, acrylic on canvas, 55½ × 49 ins/141 × 125 cm) USD 769,000 (premium)

New York, 12 Nov 2008: Saturn Revisited (1964, acrylic on canvas, 84¼ × 53 ins/214 × 135 cm) USD 662,500 (premium)

New York, 14 May 2009: Azure (1981, acrylic on canvas, 32 × 103¾ ins/81 × 264 cm) USD 314,500 (premium)

New York, 11 Nov 2009: Springscape (1975, acrylic on canvas, 37 × 98 ins/94 × 249 cm) USD 578,500 (premium)

New York, 11 May 2010: Woman’s Decision (1959, oil on canvas, 70 × 40 ins/178 × 102 cm) USD 422,500 (premium)

Dallas, 9–10 June 2010: Quattrocento (1984, acrylic on canvas, 56 × 62¾ ins/142 × 159 cm) USD 346,550 (premium)

New York, 9 Nov 2011: Royal Fireworks (1975, acrylic on canvas, 60 × 157 ins/152 × 399 cm) USD 818,500 (premium)

New York, 10 Nov 2011: Leveling (oil on canvas, 60 × 84 ins/152 × 213 cm) USD 698,500 (premium)

New York, 9 May 2012: Tournament (1977, acrylic on canvas, 96 × 72¼ ins/244 × 184 cm) USD 506,500 (premium)

New York, 14 Nov 2012: Spices (1968, acrylic on canvas, 48 × 56 ins/122 × 142 cm) USD 794,500 (premium)

New York, 16 May 2013: Cinnamon Bun (1968, acrylic on canvas, 120 × 82 ins/305 × 208 cm) USD 663,750 (premium)

New York, 13 Nov 2013: Tulip Tint (1975, acrylic on canvas, 88 × 76 ins/224 × 193 cm) USD 605,000 (premium)

New York, 15 May 2014: Pernod (1976, acrylic on canvas, 96¾ × 47 ins/246 × 119 cm) USD 557,000 (premium)

New York, 13 Nov 2014: Sea Level (1976, acrylic on canvas, 63 × 89 ins/160 × 226 cm) USD 869,000 (premium)

New York, 12 May 2015: Saturn Revisited (1964, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 53 ins/213 × 135 cm) USD 2,830,000 (premium)

New York, 10 Nov 2015: Las Mayas (1958, oil on canvas, 100 × 43¼ ins/254 × 110 cm) USD 2,405,000 (premium)

New York, 11 May 2016: Arriving in Africa (1970, acrylic on canvas, 82 × 117 ins/208 × 297 cm) USD 1,061,000 (premium)

New York, 28 Sept 2016: Pirouette (1987, acrylic on canvas, 83 × 70¼ ins/211 × 178 cm) USD 1,027,500 (premium)

Bibliography

  • Carmean, E.A., Jr: Helen Frankenthaler: a Painting Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989.
  • Elderfield, John: Helen Frankenthaler, Abrams, New York, 1989.
  • Frankenthaler: Santa Fe Series, Pastels and Other Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, 1990.
  • Frankenthaler: A Selection of Paintings from the Collection of the Artist 1951–1992, exhibition catalogue, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase (NY), 1992.
  • Fine, Ruth: Helen Frankenthaler: Prints, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington (DC), 1993.
  • Pegram, Harrison: Frankenthaler: A Catalogue Raisonné, Prints 1961–1994, Abrams, New York, 1996.
  • Goldman, Judith: Frankenthaler: the Woodcuts, exhibition catalogue, Naples Museum of Art, Naples (FL), 2002.
  • Caro, Anthony: Frankenthaler: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, M. Knoedler and Co., New York, 2006.
  • Collings, Matthew: Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings 1959–2002, exhibition catalogue, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, 2008.
  • Smith, Elizabeth A.T.: Helen Frankenthaler: Composing with Color: Paintings 1962–1963, exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2014.
  • Helen Frankenthaler Foundation: http://www.frankenthalerfoundation.org/