Helen Frankenthaler, 1928-2011

Helen Frankenthaler, Canyon, 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 44 x 52 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions and funds given by Gifford Phillips, 2001.

Abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler has died in Connecticut at the age of 83. Her painting, Canyon, 1965, is a favorite here at the Phillips and often on display. The canvas is stained by rich pools of poured paint, a method that would be adopted by other fellow members of the abstract expressionist movement. During a powerfully inspirational visit to Frankenthaler’s New York studio in April of 1953, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland saw her painting Mountains and Sea (1952) and were deeply moved by her inventive use of color and paint, bringing back techniques that would serve as the foundation of the Washington Color School painters. As quoted in Gerald Nordland’s essay, “Washington Color Painters: the first generation,” Louis said, “[Frankenthaler] showed us a way to think about and use color . . . She was a bridge between [Jackson] Pollock and what was possible.”

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