Robert Motherwell, ‘Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White’, 1947, Dedalus Foundation

This is one of a number of large pictures of abstracted figures that Motherwell painted in the mid-1940s, in which the bodies are rendered with simplified geometrical forms that allude to Picasso's paintings of the late 1920s. The muted color and expansiveness of the forms evoke a feeling of monumentality, as does the reference to Chinese imperial portraiture in both the pose of the figure and the presence of the broad-brimmed hat.

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

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Kootz

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