Robert Motherwell, ‘Great Wall of China No.4’, 1971, Bernard Jacobson Gallery

This work is part of the artist's Great Wall of China series, of which there are only five paintings, all of which are in private hands. Painted on a traditionally primed canvas, it is an exploration of the tension between foreground and background. The U-shaped forms in this series of paintings are closely related to the paintings in Motherwell's Open series of which there are a greater number of paintings and drawings.

Great Wall of China series refer to a Franz Kafka short story about the Chinese landmark, which certainly served as a dividing line in its time, and perhaps also to contemporaneous events involving China, such as Henry Kissinger's visits there in 1971, which prepared the way for Richard Nixon's historic visit the following February. Painted in 1971, a year Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler divorced, this series embodied the great divide between the two artists.

Signature: Recto, upper right: RM \ 71

Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, Robert Motherwell: Open’, 17th June – 28th August 2009

Rose, B., 1975. American Art Since 1900: Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, illustrated, p. 229.
Hobbs, R., Kuspit, D., Mattison, R., Ostrow, S., Yau, J., Collings, M. Robert Motherwell ‘Open’. London: 21 Publishing. Illustrated p. 126.
Flam, J., Rogers, K., Clifford, T., 2012. Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné 1941 – 1991. New Haven: Yale University Press. Volume 2, p.320, P617.

Ron Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis.
Mr. and Mrs. Hanford Smith (acquired in 1973).
Klabal Gallery Inc., Minneapolis.
Private Collection (acquired in 1989).
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, 2007.

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