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Robert Motherwell (1915–1991) was a major twentieth-century Abstract Expressionist whose works range from large-scale oil on canvas to layered collages and intimate gestural works on paper. Perhaps best known for his series entitled Elegy to the Spanish Republic, Motherwell’s compositions draw upon his deep political awareness and literary erudition. Both through the immediacy of his calligraphic works and the spatial concerns of his Open series, Motherwell was at the center of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism with contemporaries and close friends including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Motherwell’s gestures—whether recorded in sweeping, emotional brushwork or the hand-torn edges of collaged paper—express a search for universal forms.

Robert Motherwell was born in 1915 in Aberdeen, Washington, but moved to California as a child where he was influenced by the bright, open landscape. Motherwell studied literature and philosophy at Stanford University, receiving a B.A. in 1937. He then enrolled in graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. After traveling through Europe for a year, Motherwell returned to New York in 1940 to study art history at Columbia University with Meyer Shapiro. This brought him into contact with the great American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who challenged Motherwell to work in abstraction. From Whitehead, Motherwell learned to approach abstraction as a process of finding the necessary by cutting through the excess.

In the early 1940s, Motherwell joined a group of artists active in New York including William Baziotes, Hans Hoffman, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. In 1944 Peggy Guggenheim held a solo exhibition of Motherwell’s work at her New York gallery, Art of This Century. In the following years, Motherwell’s circle grew to include Abstract Expressionists Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Motherwell dedicated time to teaching and publishing. He worked on editorial projects on modern art and taught briefly at Black Mountain College, North Carolina before returning to New York to teach at Hunter College from 1951 to 1959.

Beginning in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Motherwell began working on his Open series, which explored the spatial concerns of the Color Field movement. In 1977, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. commissioned Motherwell to create a mural for their new wing and held a solo exhibition of the artist’s work the following year. That year also marked an exhibition held at the Royal Academy, London. In 1983, a major retrospective exhibition was installed at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York and subsequently traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

Robert Motherwell died in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1991.

2018 – “Black,” William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri

2017/2018 – “Ten Americans: After Paul Klee,” The Phillips Collection/Zentrum Paul Klee, Washington, D.C.

2017 – “Abstract Expressionism,” Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

2017 – “Robert Motherwell: The Box,” Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London, England

2017 – “Robert Motherwell: Masterprints,” Bernard Jacobsen Gallery, London, England

2016 – “Robert Motherwell: The Art of the Collage,” Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, New York

2016 – “A Process of Emphasis: Prints of Robert Motherwell, Works on Paper, 1971 – 1988,” Dedalus Foundation, New London, Connecticut

2016 – “Making Modern: Hofmann and the Next Generation,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

2016 – “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957,” Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH

2015 – “Important Works on Paper” Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art

2015 – “Robert Motherwell and The New York School at Hunter,” Dedalus Foundation, New York, New York

2014 – “Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon,” National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia

2014 – “Made in the USA: American Masters from The Phillips Collection, 1850-1970,” Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

2014 – “Robert Motherwell,” Annandale Galleries, Sydney, Australia

2013 – “Ab-ex / Re-con,” Abstract Expressionism Reconsidered, Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York

2013 – “The Artist and the Poet,” The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

2012 – “Robert Motherwell: Abstract Expressionist,” Saint Louis University Museum of Art, Saint Louis, Missouri

2012 – “Robert Motherwell: Prints from the Artist’s Studio,” Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, United Kingdom

2011 – “Focus: Robert Motherwell,” Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado

2011 – “Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper,” Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, United Kingdom

2010 – “Robert Motherwell: Printmaking Impressions,” Galerie Weihergut Biberngasse, Salzburg, Austria

2009 – “Robert Motherwell: Unique Monotypes,” Greenfield Sacks Gallery, Santa Monica, California

2009 – “The Thaw Collection of Master Drawings: Aquisitions since 2002,” Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York

2008 – “Reflections on Light,” Galerie Bernd Kluser, Munich, Germany

2008 – “Robert Motherwell: Five Great Opens,” Bernard Jacobsen Gallery, London, United Kingdom

2007 – “Temptations,” The Columns, Seoul, South Korea

2006 – “Black, Black & White, White,” Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York, New York

2005 – “Looking at Words: Erie,” Das MoMA, Berlin, Germany

2004 – “Robert Motherwell from the Collection: 1940–1990,” The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas

2004 – Robert Motherwell, Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, Germany

2003 – “Small Paintings & Works on Paper,” Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich, Germany

2002 – “Themes + Variations,” Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1987 – “The Spontaneous Gesture: Prints and Books of the Abstract Expressionist Era,” The Australian National Gallery of Art, Canberra, Australia

1983 – Robert Motherwell, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York

1981 – “American Prints: Process & Proofs,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

1980 – “The Painter and the Printer: Robert Motherwell’s Graphics 1943-1980,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1978 – Retrospective, Royal Academy of Arts, London

1977 – Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris

1974 – “American Prints 1913-63,” Riva Castleman, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1972 – “Robert Motherwell’s A la Pintura: The Genesis of a Book,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

1969 – “Prints by Four New York Painters,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

1965 – “Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1946 – “Fourteen Americans,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1944 – Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century, New York, New York