Robert Motherwell, ‘Open No. 17: In Ultramarine with Charcoal Line’, 1968, Dedalus Foundation

This picture is at once quite abstract and yet vividly evocative of a certain kind of coastal light. Alfred
North Whitehead held that “the purpose of philosophy is to rationalize mysticism.” A painting like this one recalls a comparison that the writer James Fitzsimmons made between Whitehead and Motherwell part of whose purpose as a painter “to make a quasi-mystical response to landscape rational, orderly and intelligible.” Paintings such as this one are among Motherwell’s most luminous and ethereal abstractions.

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The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

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