Helen Frankenthaler 1928 —


Helen Frankenthaler was born in New York City on December 28, 1928, the third and youngest daughter of a noted justice of the New York Supreme Court She attended the exclusive Brearley School in Manhattan and the Dalton School where her art teacher was Rufino Tamayo.  He suggested that she go to Bennington College to study painting; her instructor there was Paul Feeley, an academic Cubist. She graduated from Bennington College in 1949 and studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the summer of 1950.  

In her early days as an artist, Frankenthaler shared a Greenwich Village studio and its rent with Friedel Dzubas, whom she had met at the home of the critic Clement Greenberg.  Her circle of friends included Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan and Joan Mitchell.  In April 1958 she married the leading Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell.  Their honeymoon was spent traveling in France and Spain and they returned to a brownstone in New York.  Their marriage ended in divorce in 1970.

When Jackson Pollock first exhibited some of his paintings in 1951, they exerted a great influence on Frankenthaler. Their scale. free graphic rhythms, and color impressed her strongly; but above all she was struck by Pollock's method of dripping paint directly onto the raw canvas, emphasizing both the flatness of the painting and the physical actuality of the support.

Carrying this technique still further, Frankenthaler thins her pigment with large amounts of turpentine so that they soak directly through the unprimed cloth and stains it.  The resultant image no longer lies on top of the picture plane but is embedded within; the transparent mat colors of varying intensity modulate from light to dark without creating any illusion that they exist in a space other than that of the woven textural surface.  Frankenthaler also adopted Pollock's practice of painting with the canvas stretched out on the floor, allowing the artist to be "in" the picture, work from all four sides, and produce an image seen from above.  She has always delighted in in the way paint behaves on paper.  The freshness, directness and potency added to her dramatic use of color, line and space.  Her stain painting technique was novel.  Rather than painting on a primed canvas, she poured paint over an unprimed surface that allowed the paint to soak into the canvas.  This staining and the process involved became her trademark style, and a whole generation of artists, known as Color Field painters, followed her.  Her large studio has been in New York City.

In the early 1960s Frankenthaler switched from oils to acrylics, with which she could achieve a watercolor effect by thinning the paint even further.  She experimented with the use of sponges, heavier brushes, thicker globs of paint, etc. She influenced a whole generation of color-field painters, including Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis.
Frankenthaler had a brief period when she experimented with sculpture.  In the summer of 1972, she worked with Anthony Caro in his studio in London, and she used some of the steel that Caro had acquired from the estate of David Smith.  She had first met Caro in New York in 1959, and they had formed a friendship during which she expressed an interest in experimenting with sculpture.  During the two weeks, she completed ten welded steel sculptures in abstract style, and titles included Heart of London, Ceiling Horses, Matisse Table, Ten After All and Ceiling Horses.  However, after this intense period of sculpting, "Frankenthaler never again muade sculptures in steel, and the sojourn in Caro's studio was never repeated.  The energetic, vital constructions she completed in London leave us wishing she'd gone back often." (Wilkin).  In 2006, Knoedler & Company held an exhibit of the work she completed with Caro.

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View synoptic biography below.


Acrylic on canvas

56 x 62.75 inches
Signed lower left
Download Fact Sheet

Major exhibitions include:

1951 Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York (first solo exhibition)

1957 Young America 1957, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;

1960 Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings, The Jewish Museum, New York.

1975 Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings 1969 -1974, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and United States tour.

1980 Helen Frankenthaler: Works of the Seventies, Saginaw Art Museum, Saginaw, MI, and Michigan touring;
Helen Frankenthaler: Prints 1961 - 1979, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA, and United States tour.

1998 After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956 - 1959, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York;
Helen Frankenthaler: Three Decades of Paintings, Ameringer Howard, Boca Raton, FL. 2000 Frankenthaler on Paper, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London.

Monographs and Major Exhibition Catalogues: (Very Selected Readings)

Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings. Exhibition catalogue with essay by Frank OHara. New York: The Jewish Museum, 1960.
Helen Frankenthaler. Exhibition catalogue with essay by E.C. Goosen. Bennington, Vermont: Bennigton College, 1978.
Exhibition catalogue with essay by Carl Belz Waltham, Massachusetts: Rose Art Museum, 1981.
Helen Frankenthaler: A Paintings Retrospective, exhibition catalogue with essay by E.A. Carmean Jr. New York and Fort Worth, Texas: Harry N. Abrams and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 1989.

Cited Articles:

Frank OHara, "Helen Frankenthaler," Art News (December 1954):53. Hilton Kramer, "Art: Special Breed at Folk Art Show," The New York Times (December 2, 1977). Arther C. Danto, "Helen Frankenthaler," The National (August 21/28, 1989): 217-20.

Honorary Degrees:

Doctor of Human Letters, Skidmore College, 1969
Doctor of Fine Arts, Smith College, 1973
Doctor of Fine Arts, Moore College, 1974
Doctor of Fine Arts, Bard College, 1976
Doctor of Art, Radcliffe College (centennial), 1978
Doctor of Art, Amherst College, 1979
Doctor of Fine Arts, New York University, 1979
Doctor of Art, Harvard University, 1980
Doctor of Fine Arts, Philadelphia College of Art, 1980 Doctor of Fine Arts, Syracuse University, 1985


Born 1928 in New York. Lives and works in New York.
1945 - 1949     Studied at Bennington College, VT, with Paul Feeley, B.A., and

1946     at the Art Students League, New York, with Vaclav Vytlacil

1948    Studied privately with Wallace Harrison, NY

1950    with Hans Hofmann, NY

since 1951    Development of her own painting technique following an analysis of Pollock's „drip paintings": influence on Noland and Louis

1952    Gebirge und Meer

Awards and Honours (selection)

1980    DFA: New York University
    DFA: Harvard University

1981    DFA: Yale University

1991    Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1994    Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, College Art Association, New York

1996    DFA: Rhode Island School of Design

1999    Jerusalem Prize Lifetime Achievement Award

Solo exhibitions (selection)

2001    Seattle, Greg Kucera Gallery, The Prints of Helen Frankenthaler 1970-2001

2000    London, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, On Paper: 1990-1999

1998    Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim, Helen Frankenthaler: 'Mountains and Sea' and the Years Afterwards 1956-59 New York, Guggenheim Museum, After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959

1996, 1995    New York, Knoedler & Company, Spring Run Monotypes

1995    Santa Monica, Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Recent Prints and Paintings on Paper

1993    Washington, National Gallery of Art, travelled to San Diego Museum of Fine Arts; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; Cincinatti, Contemporary Arts Center; Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, Japan

1989 - 1990    New York, Museum of Modern Art, travelled to Los Angeles and Fort Worth, TX, Retrospective

1985    New York, Guggenheim Museum, travelled to Edmonton, Alberta, Toronto, Milwaukee, Baltimore, San Francisco, Houston, Cambridge, MA

1975    New York, Guggenheim Museum

1969    New York, Whitney Museum, Retrospective. London, Whitechapel Art Gallery. Hannover, Kunstverein

1951 - 1958    New York, Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Group exhibitions (selection)

2004    Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Das MoMA in Berlin

2003    Bochum, Museum, Das Recht des Bildes - Jüdische Perspektiven in der modernen Kunst
    Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Helen Frankenthaler

1994    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Western Artists/African Art

1965    Venice, Biennale

1959    Kassel, Documenta 2

Works by Helen Frankenthaler are in 64 museums including:

Akron Art Museum; Albright Knox Art Gallery; Art Institute of Chicago; Baltimore Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie ; Chrysler Museum of Art; Cincinnati Art Museum; Columbus Museum of Art; Dallas Museum of Art; Everson Museum Of Art; Flint Institute of Arts; Frederick R Weisman Art Museum; Georgia Museum of Art; High Museum of Art; ; Hunter Museum of American Art; Joslyn Art Museum; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art; Memorial Art Gallery; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute; National Gallery of Art; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; Norton Museum of Art; Oklahoma City Museum of Art; Newark Museum; Orlando Museum of Art; ; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Phoenix Art Museum; Portland Art Museum; Rhode Island School of Design-Museum of Art; Rose Art Museum; San Diego Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Smith College Museum of Art; Solomon R Guggenheim Museum; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis; Speed Art Museum; The Toledo Museum of Art; The University of Arizona Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Williams College Museum of Art; and Yale University Art Gallery.

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