Robert Motherwell, ‘Beside the Sea No. 5’, 1962, Dedalus Foundation

Motherwell’s Beside the Sea series was a response to the way the sea at high tide broke against the bulkhead near his Provincetown studio in a violent spray. Both the colors and the forms of this painting occupy a terrain that is somewhere between description and metaphor: the skeins of splashed paint that rise above the horizontal strokes suggest water whipped by wind, just as the ochres and blues of the horizontal lines suggest—but do not quite describe—the colors of sand and water. “One might say that
the true way to ‘imitate’ nature is to employ its own processes,” Motherwell later wrote.

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Image rights: © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY

Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Mass. Purchased with the gift of Bonnie Johnson Sacerdote, class of 1964, and Louisa Stude Sarofim, class of 1958, and the Dedalus Foundation

About Robert Motherwell

Alongside Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell is considered one of the great American Abstract Expressionist painters. His esteemed intellect not only undergirded his gorgeous, expressive paintings—frequently featuring bold black shapes against fields of color—but also made Motherwell one of the leading writers, theorists, and advocates of the New York School. He forged close friendships with the European Surrealists and other intellectuals over his interests in poetry and philosophy, and as such served as a vital link between the pre-war avant-garde in Europe and its post-war counterpart in New York, establishing automatism and psychoanalysis as central concerns of American abstraction. "It's not that the creative act and the critical act are simultaneous," Motherwell said. "It's more like you blurt something out and then analyze it.

American, 1915-1991, Aberdeen, Washington, based in New York and Greenwich, Connecticut