Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991): Original Prints (2024)

Since his death in 1991, Robert Motherwell’s place in the history of 20th-century art has become more clear. A PBS special acclaimed him as the most important of the Abstract Expressionists whose heroic vision of art dominated the 1950s and 1960s and continues to withstand the claims of its later rivals (Pop, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, etc.) In a 1970 statement, Motherwell defined the place of the artist in our culture: “Most people ignorantly suppose that artists are the decorators of our human existence, the esthetes to whom the cultivated may turn when the real business of the day is done. But actually what an artist is, is a person skilled in expressing human feeling. . . . Far from being merely decorative, the artist’s awareness . . . is one . . . of the few guardians of the inherent sanity and equilibrium of the human spirit that we have.”

Motherwell came to New York City in 1940 and joined a group of artists—including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline—who brought European Modernism to American painting. Rejecting the "realism" of American Regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry, they looked at a world split apart by war and at the threat of totalitarian regimes like those of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, and in response they created an art that rejected the propagandistic vision of perfect Aryans creating a brave new world, that dug under the facade of the physical to expose the stresses tearing the world and the individual apart, an art that sought to understand the subconscious and the unconscious, that substituated emotion for logic and gestures for photographic realism. Strongly influenced by Miro, whose series of Constellations were first shown in New York at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the early 1940s, by Picasso, whose giant Guernica brought to the nightmare depiction of a village slaughtered by Franco's trrops aided by Hitler's bombers, a mighty cry of rage and pain, and by the the Surrealists, many of whom had fled from Nazi Europe to New York, the Abstract Expressionists sought to create images that might wake up America from its long repressed sleep of conformity to the brave new world of a world at war with civilization's very existence at risk.

Born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1915, Motherwell studied philosophy at Stanford and Harvard where he fell under the spell of Alfred North Whitehead, who first challenged him with the notion of abstraction as a process of discarding the inessential and focusing on the necessary. Reflecting on those early years, he insisted that "if the abstraction, the violence, the humanity was valid in Abstract Expressionism, then it cut out the ground from every other kind of painting." It was this revolutionary faith that steered his life and his art.

Selected Bibliography: H. H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell (NY: Abrams, 1977; 2nd ed. 1982); Dore Ashton & Jack D. Flam, Robert Motherwell (NY: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo / Abbeville Press, 1983); E. A. Carmean Jr., The Collages of Robert Motherwell: A Retrospective Exhibition (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1973); Mary Ann Caws, Robert Motherwell: What Art Holds (NY: Columbia University Press, 1996); Siri Engberg & Joan Banach, Robert Motherwell: The Complete Prints 1940-1991 (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2003)); Jack Flam, Motherwell (NY: Rizzoli, 1991); Fort Worth Art Museum, Robert Motherwell: Stephen's Iron Crown and Related Works (Fort Worth Art Museum, 1985); Constance and Jack Glenn, ed. The Dedalus Sketchbooks, Robert Motherwell (NY: Harry N. Abrams , 1988); FrankO'Hara, ed. Robert Motherwell, With Selections From The Artist's Writings (NY: The Museum Of Modern Art, 1965); Marcelin Pleynet, Robert Motherwell (Paris: Editions Daniel Papieski, 1989); David Rosand, ed. Robert Motherwell on Paper. Drawings, Prints, Collages (NY: Abrams, 1997); Stephanie Terenzio & Dorothy C. Belknap, The Prints of Robert Motherwell: A Catalogue Raisonne, 1943-1990 (NY: Hudson Hills Press, 1991); Stephanie Terenzio, Robert Motherwell & Black (Storrs, CT: William Benton Museum of Art, 1980); Stephanie Terenzio, The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell (NY: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Altamira Elegy (Belknap 229, Engberg & Banach 262). Original lithograph printed in black and white from 2 aluminum plates collaged onto cream paper, 1979-80. 75 signed & numbered impressions, of which ours is n. 51/75. Arthur C. Danto discusses this work in "The 'Original Creative Principle': Motherwell and Psychic Automatism" in Rosand, 39-58: "in the lithographic Altamira Elegy [fig. 7], where the grass-style fibrilations have been exchanged for something heavy, as if deposited by a charged brush, there could be four shawled figures or four brooding trees, and there is a tense rhythm left and right and left. What gives it the elegiac feel is the heaviness, the downwardness of the forms, as if sorrow refused to let them rise. But perhaps one reads too much into it, knowing that the word 'elegy' appears in the title. The four heavy forms could be bunches of grapes or fruits on a table" (55). The Altamira Elegy was published in the deluxe edition of Reconciliation Elegy, a “photographic journal [that] records the collaboration of Robert Motherwell and his studio assistants in the creation of the artist’s monumental painting Reconciliation Elegy, a commission for the East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.” According to the colophon of the deluxe edition, “The original edition of Reconciliation Elegy includes 75 copies numbered from 1 to 75, 15 artist’s proofs and 15 copies Hors Commerce numbered h.c. 1 to h.c. 15. Each of these 90 copies is accompanied by an original lithograph by Robert Motherwell signed and numbered by the artist.” The book is numbered N. 51 and so is the original lithograph, which came loosely inserted into a special flap in the inner front cover. The condition is excellent. This is a beautiful and subtle lithograph and comes with the matching copy of the book in which it was presented. After almost 30 years, it is uncommon to find both together. Image size: 101x235mm. Price: Please call or email for current pricing information.

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Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991): Original Prints (2024)


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