Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper, the first ever exhibition dedicated to drawings and paintings
on paper by Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) to be held in Britain, will be staged at the Bernard
Jacobson Gallery, 6 Cork Street, London W1, from 10 October to 26 November 2011. The
exhibition, taking place twenty years after the artist’s death, will comprise some ninety works
spanning most of his career, with prices ranging from $10,000 to $300,000.
Robert Motherwell was a major figure in the birth and development of Abstract Expressionism and
the youngest member of the ‘New York School’, a term he coined. His career spanned five decades
during which time he created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. A passionate
advocate and articulate spokesman for Abstract Expressionism, he believed that ideas and emotions
were best communicated through the bold forms and gestural lines of abstract art. This exhibition
will include sixty works from the Lyric Suite, a group of works from the Beside the Sea series and a
selection of works based upon James Joyce’s Ulysses as well as an abstract portrait of the poet. A
further selection of works from the 1940s to the 1980s includes Elegy and Je t’aime as well as
automatism drawings, work from the Drunk with Turpentine, Gesture and the Open series.
Motherwell came from an educated middle-class family and studied literature, psychology and
philosophy at Stanford University, California, and philosophy at Harvard. He decided to become
an artist after seeing modern French painting on a year-long trip to Europe in 1938-9 but first, to
please his father, he studied art history at Columbia University, New York. There, through his tutor
Meyer Shapiro, he met the Chilean-born painter Roberto Matta and other Surrealist artists exiled
from Europe whose use of ‘automatism’ had a lasting effect on him as well as on other American
artists including Jackson Pollock. Motherwell became very close to Pollock and to Mark Rothko,
the other two outstanding figures of Abstract Expressionism.
In 1941 Motherwell went to Mexico with Matta and on the boat he met Maria Emilia Ferreira y
Moyers, a Mexican actress, who became his first wife. In Mexico, under the influence of Matta and
Wolfgang Paalen, Motherwell worked on his Mexican Sketchbook. Using a technique called
psychic automatism, he produced images that were a Surrealist mix of the abstract and the semirepresentational.
This sketchbook and the trip to Mexico led to his first important paintings, works
such as Little Spanish Prison, 1941, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Motherwell’s first one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in New York
in 1944 included paintings, drawings and collages all with a Spanish or Mexican theme. The
Spanish Civil War became a great moral issue that drove his work for some years and for many his
defining image is the 140 monumental works entitled Elegy to the Spanish Republic which began
with a small ink drawing illustrating a poem by Harold Rosenberg in 1948. He described these
works as “a funeral for something one cared about” and continued to paint them up to his death.
In the late 1940s and the 1950s Motherwell spent some time teaching and lecturing, first at Black
Mountain College, North Carolina, where he taught and influenced Robert Rauschenberg and Cy
Twombly who died recently, and later at Hunter College, New York. In 1944 he initiated the
Documents of Modern Art series translating and publishing for the first time many of the important
documents of the European avant-garde.
From 1954 to 1958, during the break-up of his second marriage, he worked on a small series of
paintings which incorporated the words Je t’aime, expressing his most intimate and private feelings.
His collages began to incorporate material from his studio such as cigarette packets and labels
becoming records of his daily life. He was married for the third time, from 1958 to 1971, to Helen
Frankenthaler, a successful abstract painter. In 1962 they spent the summer at the artists’ colony at
Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the coastline inspired the Beside the Sea series of 64 paintings,
the oil paint splashed with full force against rag paper imitating the sea crashing on the shore in
front of his studio.
The Lyric Suite, named after Alban Berg’s string quartet, dates from 1965 when, as Motherwell
recalled, “I went to a Japanese store to buy a toy for a friend’s kid, and I saw this beautiful Japanese
paper and I bought a thousand sheets. And made up my mind, this was in the beginning of April
1965, that I would do the thousand sheets without correction. I’d make an absolute rule for myself.
And I got to 600 in April and May, when one night my wife and I were having dinner and the
telephone rang. And it was Kenneth Noland in Vermont saying that I should come immediately.
And I said, ‘what’s happened?’ And he said, ‘David Smith’s been in an accident’.” Smith, the
sculptor, was Motherwell and Frankenthaler’s great friend. Jumping into their Mercedes they sped
to Vermont but arrived 15 minutes after Smith had died. Motherwell stopped work on the series.
He said of them: “And then one year I had them all framed, and I like them very much now. I
should also say that I half painted them and they half painted themselves. I’d never used rice paper
before except occasionally as an element in a collage. And most of these were made with very
small, I mean very thin lines. And then I would look at amazement on the floor after I’d finished.
It would spread like spots of oil and fill all kinds of strange dimensions.”
From 1967 to the end of the ‘80s, he worked on another major series with the general title Open, his
response to the work of the younger Minimalists. Robert Motherwell died in his Provincetown
home in 1991 after a prolific and highly successful career. Robert Hughes, the distinguished art
critic for Time magazine, one of Motherwell’s greatest advocates, wrote of a retrospective
exhibition in Buffalo in 1988: “...his full maturity came after the abstract expressionist ‘period’ – in
fact, after 1960 – and his career illustrates the perils of generalising about decades, groups or
movements. Of course there are expressionist elements in Motherwell, and strong ones at that. But
the rhythm of this show obliges one to discard the hearty cliché of the abstract expressionist as a
kind of existential romantic, flinging pots of paint in the eyes of fate.”
In 1981 Motherwell founded the Dedalus Foundation in order to foster public understanding of
modern art and modernism through its support of research, education, publications and exhibitions.
The Foundation also owns the copyright of Motherwell’s work and his archive and is sponsoring
the catalogue raisonné of his paintings, collages and paintings on paper to be published by Yale
University Press in the autumn of 2012. A catalogue raisonné of his prints was sponsored by the
Foundation and published by the Walker Art Center in 2003.
Bernard Jacobson Gallery held the first exhibition in Britain of Robert Motherwell’s Open series in
2008, and in 2013 the gallery will hold an exhibition of the collages. In 2015, to coincide with
Motherwell’s centenary of his birth, they will have a major exhibition of paintings.
Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper coincides with a major exhibition, Painting on Paper: The
Drawings of Robert Motherwell taking place at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, from 25 June to
11 December 2011, but the 55 works on view in Canada are of course not for sale unlike the works
to be found at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London.
Notes to Editors
Bernard Jacobson Gallery was founded in 1969, publishing and distributing prints by artists
including Robyn Denny, Lucien Freud, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff, Henry Moore, Richard
Smith, Ed Ruscha and William Tillyer. By the mid 1970s, having established himself as one of the
major dealers in the international print boom, Jacobson began to show paintings and sculpture. The
early 1980s saw the gallery open branches in Los Angeles and New York, expanding the range of
international artists to include West Coast American artists such as Joe Goode and Larry Bell as
well as modern British masters such as David Bomberg, Ivon Hitchens, Peter Lanyon, Ben
Nicholson, William Scott, Stanley Spencer, and Graham Sutherland. From 1997, the gallery moved
more firmly into American and international art, with shows of artists such as Kenneth Noland,
Jules Olitski, Larry Poons and Frank Stella. Recently, the gallery has held shows by the American
artists Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and
Tom Wesselmann, while European painters include Bram Bogart and Pierre Soulages and British
artists William Tillyer, Bruce McLean and Mark Vaux.
In 2004, the gallery moved to 6 Cork Street in London’s Mayfair, uniting Bernard Jacobson
Graphics and Bernard Jacobson Gallery under one roof. Since then, the gallery has held major
exhibitions including a two-part examination of Robert Motherwell’s Open Series, the largest
showing of the artist’s work in the UK since the 1978 retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts; a
selection of new works by former President of the Royal Academy, Phillip King; a rare selection of
works from Helen Frankenthaler’s personal collection; and Bruce McLean’s first London showing
of new paintings in over fifteen years. In 2010, the gallery hosted the first UK exhibition of new
work by French painter Pierre Soulages for over thirty years and a four-part exhibition of the varied
works of the British artist William Tillyer. New geometrical works by Marc Vaux were on show in
the exhibition New Paintings: Triptychs and Ovals in conjunction with his display at Tate Britain.
This year has seen the gallery open a new space in New York on East 71st Street with an inaugural
exhibition entitled 60 Years of British Art followed by 21 Americans, the latter showing work by
major American artists including Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein and
Robert Rauschenberg. Bernard Jacobson Gallery also has a strong presence at major international
art fairs participating at Art Brussels, London’s Pavilion of Art and Design, and the prestigious Art
Basel where ArtInfo voted it one of the top booths of 2011 for a vast and impressive selection of
works by Robert Motherwell.
Location: 6 Cork Street, London W1S 3NX, +44 (0)20 7734 3431, www.jacobsongallery.com
Opening hours: Weekdays 10 am to 6 pm; Sat 11 am to 1 pm
Catalogue: The exhibition will be accompanied by a scholarly, fully illustrated catalogue. Price £10.
For further information and images, please contact:
Sue Bond Public Relations
Tel. +44 (0)1359 271085, Fax. +44 (0)1359 271934
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.suebond.co.uk