Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Flotilla’, 1987, Robert Fontaine Gallery
Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Flotilla’, 1987, Robert Fontaine Gallery
Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Flotilla’, 1987, Robert Fontaine Gallery

Helen Frankenthaler (December 12, 1928 – December 27, 2011) was an American abstract expressionist painter and major contributor to postwar American painting born in New York City. Having exhibited her work for over six decades (early 1950s until 2011), she spanned several generations of abstract painters while continuing to produce vital and ever-changing new work. Frankenthaler began exhibiting her large scale abstract expressionist paintings in contemporary museums and galleries in the early 1950s. She was included in the 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition curated by Clement Greenberg that introduced a newer generation of abstract painting that came to be known as Color Field. Born in Manhattan, she was influenced by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock's paintings and by Clement Greenberg. Her work has been the subject of several retrospective exhibitions, including a 1989 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and has been exhibited worldwide since the 1950s. In 2001, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Frankenthaler had a home and studio in Darien, Connecticut where she passed away in 2011 at the age of 83.

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© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Naples Art Museum, FL

About Helen Frankenthaler

A second-generation Abstract Expressionist painter, Helen Frankenthaler became active in the New York School of the 1950s, initially influenced by artists like Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. She gained fame with her invention of the color-stain technique—applying thin washes of paint to unprimed canvas—in her iconic Mountains and Sea (1952), a motivating work for Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and other Color Field painters who emerged in the ’60s. Her own canvases, however, often evoked elements of landscape or figuration in the shaping of their forms. “My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates,” she once said. “They're not nature per se, but a feeling.” From 1958 to 1971, she was married to fellow Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell, who, like Frankenthaler, worked in symbolic painted gestures—only her paintings were almost always visibly improvised from start to finish. As poet and critic Frank O’Hara wrote in 1960, “she is willing to risk everything on inspiration.” In addition to painting, Frankenthaler also made ceramics, welded steel sculptures, and set designs, but the related medium that most attracted her, and in which her achievement came the closest painting, was printmaking—especially the creation of woodcuts, hers counting among the greatest of contemporary works in that medium.

American, 1928-2011, New York, New York, based in New York and Darien, Connecticut

Group Shows on Artsy

Art Basel 2017 - Private, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
Making Modern: Hofmann and the Next Generation, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston
Women of Abstract Expressionism, Denver Art Museum, Denver
Group Show, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
View Artist's CV