Matisse and American Art at the Montclair Art Museum

The Montclair Art Museum’s exhibition Matisse and American Art (on view through June 18, 2017) examines Henri Matisse’s profound impact on American modern art from 1907 to the present. The exhibition juxtaposes 19 works by Matisse with 44 works by American artists including Robert Motherwell , Max Weber, Alfred Maurer, Maurice Prendergast, Stuart Davis, Richard Diebenkorn, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden, John Baldessari, Sophie Matisse, Faith Ringgold, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Motherwell first encountered Matisse’s paintings in the fall of 1935 at the home of Michael and Sarah Stein. He later recalled that the works he saw there, “[w]ent through my heart like a golden arrow and I had one real intuition immediately. I thought this is what I want to belong to.” That initial response carried through Motherwell’s life, influencing his works across media but especially in his collages. For the last two decades of his life, Motherwell had a Matisse cutout, La Danseuse, hanging in his home.

The wall of Motherwell’s living quarters in June 1983. Matisse’s "La Danseuse," ca. 1949 can be seen at the center surrounded by Motherwell’s own works.
The wall of Motherwell’s living quarters in June 1983. Matisse’s “La Danseuse,” ca. 1949 can be seen at the center surrounded by Motherwell’s own works.

Matisse and American Art includes Motherwell’s 1977 collage Cathedral II. The work reflects Motherwell’s familiarity with Matisse’s method of collage, especially the act of cutting and arranging which added a physicality to the to the composition.

Robert Motherwell, “Cathedral II,” 1977. Acrylic, pasted papers, and graphite on paper, 30 x 20 in. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.
Robert Motherwell, “Cathedral II,” 1977. Acrylic, pasted papers, and graphite on paper, 30 x 20 in. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.

Robert Motherwell and Pierre Chareau

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design is currently on view at the Jewish Museum until March 26, 2107.

Pierre Chareau in Motherwell’s Studio
Pierre Chareau in Motherwell’s Studio

French architect and interior designer Pierre Chareau spent the final years of his life in exile and relative obscurity in New York. Despite being a member of the prestigious Société des Artistes Décorateurs (an extraordinarily talented group of artists who specialized in creating unified interiors) in France, traces of his final years spent in America are limited and his American designs have received relatively little attention. He designed two built works in the United States: La Colline in Spring Valley, New York for the pianist Germaine Monteux and the writer Nancy Laughlin in 1950; and Robert Motherwell’s East Hampton studio and home in 1947.

Interior of the East Hampton Quonset hut.
Interior of the East Hampton Quonset hut.

Motherwell was introduced to Chareau and his wife Dollie by Anaïs Nin in the summer of 1944. Motherwell connected with Chareau in part because he believed that they both worked using “the collage principle, inspired by materials,” in their respective fields. In 1946 Motherwell asked Chareau to serve as the architecture editor for his review Possibilities, which he coedited with the critic Harold Rosenberg and the composer John Cage.

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In 1947, Motherwell asked Chareau to design a house and studio on his two-acre property in East Hampton. For his fee, Chareau received a small piece of the Motherwell property on which he built a cottage that followed the so-called “primitive hut” concept later used by the French architect Corbusier in his Petit Cabanon. The Motherwell home and studio were built using surplus Quonset huts and utilized low cost materials like an industrial greenhouse window; concrete blocks for the retaining walls; plywood; and brick and oak logs for the floor.

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The house gained some notoriety when it was photographed for Harper’s Bazaar in June of 1948. The photographs in the magazine show Chareau and the Motherwells as well as Anne Clark, and her young twin sons (including a young Gordon Matta-Clark) in the different rooms around the house.

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The Chareaus were early collectors of Motherwell’s work and owned several of his paintings and drawings, including Line Figure in Beige and Mauve, 1946 and Constructed Figures, 1944 both of which are on display at the Jewish Museum until March 26.

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“Line Figure in Beige and Mauve”, 1946. Oil and sand on canvas board, 30 x 22 in.
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.
"Constructed Figures," 1944. Ink on paper, 11 1/8 x 14 1/2 in.  © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.
“Constructed Figures,” 1944. Ink on paper, 11 1/8 x 14 1/2 in.
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.

To learn more about Robert Motherwell’s relationship with Pierre Chareau make sure to visit the Jewish Museum before March 26. More information about the exhibition can be found here.

From the Archives

The Dedalus Foundation is home to thousands of Motherwell’s professional and personal papers and photographs, including correspondence, datebooks, and interviews. The material in the archives not only allows us to reconstruct the artist’s daily activities and studio practice, but it also gives us a clear picture of Motherwell as an individual.

The images in the archives span Motherwell’s career and contain everything from his old lecture slides to photographs of works and exhibitions. Some of the most enlightening and engaging images are of Motherwell’s personal life and his travels, especially during the 1960s when he was married to the painter Helen Frankenthaler.

In the fall of 1961, Motherwell and Frankenthaler traveled to France where they each had solo exhibitions, he with Galerie Heinz Berggruen and she with Galerie Lawrence. On October 9, Frankenthaler wrote to friends, “Bob’s vernissage was last Tuesday the show is something to be proud of, great crowd and lots of familiar faces. We’re busy and feeling splendid (Even had a drink atop the Eiffel Tower today—gevalt!).”

 

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Motherwell’s personal photographs sometimes shed light on his creative process. Photographs taken by Motherwell and Frankenthaler in Alassio, Italy illustrate how Motherwell incorporated the shapes of the landscape and the color of the beach umbrellas into Summertime in Italy No. 3, 1960.

 

"Summertime in Italy No. 3," 1960
“Summertime in Italy No. 3,” 1960

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Travel served as an inspiration for a number Motherwell’s works throughout his career, including the collage The French Line, 1960. Motherwell meant the title to be a multiple pun, which he explained in the catalogue for his 1963 Smith College exhibition: “The French advertisement is from a box of diet-crackers (the French always talk about one’s line in relation to weight); the line of the Riviera coast is visible; it is one of the most ‘French’ pictures I have ever painted (and in this sense follows the ‘French Line’ in painting); I travelled on the French line to Europe to paint it.” There is a photograph of a French Line ship in the slides from Motherwell and Frankenthaler’s trip, perhaps meant to commemorate the literal inspiration for the collage’s title.

 

"The French Line," 1960
“The French Line,” 1960

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The Dedalus Foundation archives are currently closed to the public, but research requests may still be directed to archives@dedalusfoundation.org. To learn more about the Foundation’s archives, or to view digitized materials, please click here.

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

A Case Study of Robert Motherwell’s Reworking Method

Motherwell frequently revised his works, some over long periods of time, and some after they were reproduced in publications or exhibited. One of the most complicated histories of reworking involved Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, which was repainted several times both before and after being exhibited. Begun in 1975, this painting was originally based on the composition of an earlier, small-scale work, Spanish Elegy with Orange No. 3 but it subsequently underwent a number of permutations and revisions that lasted from the mid-1970s well into the next decade.

 

Spanish Elegy with Orange No. 3, 1944. Acrylic and graphite on canvas board, 8 x 10 in.
Spanish Elegy with Orange No. 3, 1944. Acrylic and graphite on canvas board, 8 x 10 in.

In its very first version, it contained areas of orange, like the small picture on which it was modeled, but Motherwell repainted it entirely in black and white shortly afterward, and it was photographed on September 19, 1975.

 

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on September 19, 1975
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on September 19, 1975

He made significant revisions soon after this, and it looked quite different when it was photographed again on October 27, 1975.

 

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on October 27, 1975
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on October 27, 1975

He made major revisions again before it was photographed on February 10, 1976.

 

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on February 10, 1976
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on February 10, 1976

It was revised yet again before it was shown at his 1977 retrospective exhibitions in Paris and Edinburgh. In 1982 Motherwell reworked it again, adding large areas of pink and yellow ochre, before it was shown at his 1983 retrospective at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where it was reproduced in the catalogue.

 

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on December 22, 1982
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 132, as photographed on December 22, 1982

After it was returned to him in 1985, he revised it yet again, painting over the pink areas with ochre as you can see in the final image.

In many cases, it is difficult to say exactly what prompted Motherwell to rework a given picture at a certain time. It was not simply a matter of “perfectionism,” since he himself accepted as a kind of philosophical truth that a work of art could never be perfect. The most surprising thing is how many pictures he revised—mostly paintings on canvas and panel, but also collages and paintings on paper— and also how many times he chose to repaint a picture when it would have seemed easier simply to start a new one, and how much time and effort he gave to the revision of both important and minor pictures. It was as if he was constantly trying to find, redefine, and find again an elusive reality not only within the world, but within himself.

Note: This blog post was adapted from the Robert Motherwell Catalogue Raisonné.

Intergenerational Dialogues at the Dedalus Foundation

When Motherwell founded the Dedalus Foundation in 1981, its purpose was stated as follows, “To serve the public interest by endeavoring to foster, cultivate, develop, and support public understanding and appreciation of the principles of modern art expressed through the theories of modernism as expressed in the works and writings of Robert Motherwell and other artists.”

In order to further Motherwell’s legacy, the Foundation has begun to expand its educational programs for children and adults in our Sunset Park location. The Dedalus Foundation’s President and CEO, Jack Flam, sat down with Programs Director Katy Rogers to discuss the organization’s mission and how it is enacted through a dynamic roster of evolving programs.
Continue reading “Intergenerational Dialogues at the Dedalus Foundation”

Welcome to the Dedalus Foundation Blog

Welcome to the new blog feature on the Dedalus Foundation website. We are very excited to introduce this new forum, which will allow us to present information related to the Foundation’s programs and the art of Robert Motherwell. The blog will include short essays, scholarly articles, and reflections about modern art and modernism, and the role of arts education in contemporary society.