• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2048

    Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale

    12 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 25

    Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)

    Throw of Dice #17

    Price Realised  


    Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
    Throw of Dice #17
    signed, titled and dated twice 'Robert Motherwell 1963 "A THROW OF DICE, #17" 1963' (on the reverse and on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    72 x 48 in. (182.9 x 121.9 cm.)
    Painted in 1963.

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    This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Collages by Robert Motherwell being prepared by the Dedalus Foundation.

    "I think that one's art is one's effort to wed oneself to the universe, to unify oneself through union"
    -- Robert Motherwell

    One of Abstract Expressionism's founding members, Robert Motherwell created a body of work of astonishing depth and diversity over the course of five decades, ranging from drawing and painting to collage and printmaking. His work engages with a wide variety of approaches to abstraction, running the gamut from severe monochrome to intense coloration, from organic to more geometric compositions. Across this stylistic breadth, his work expresses through brushwork that he deftly combined with rigorous structure, frequently alluding to literature and politics.

    Throw of the Dice #17 is a large-scale painting by Motherwell which testifies to his bold experiments with color, in part prompted by the impact of Color-Field painting in the 1960s. Motherwell spent part of his youth in California, and in these canvases he returns to memories of the region's bright colors and expansive spaces. Each of these works epitomizes a different facet of Motherwell's art.

    The expressive drip marks and powerful splash of ocean blue at the center of Throw of Dice #17, 1963, evokes Motherwell's experiences in Provincetown, where, just outside his studio, "at high tide the sea in a high wind breaks against the bulkhead in a violent spray" (J. Flam, Motherwell, New York, 1991, p. 25). The title, drawn from a poem by Stphane Mallarmé, pays homage to the embrace of chance in the artistic process, which Motherwell here evokes in the composition's spontaneous feel.


    Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1963

    Pre-Lot Text



    D. Ashton, "Robert Motherwell: Passion and Transfiguration," Studio International, vol. 167 (March 1964), p. 103 (illustrated).
    H. H. Arnason, "Robert Motherwell: The Years 1948 to 1965," Art International, vol. 10 (20 April 1966), p. 38.
    H. H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1977, p. 64, pl. 40 (illustrated in color).
    A. Flowers, The Art of Gambling Through the Ages, Las Vegas, 2000, p. 79 (illustrated).


    New York, Museum of Modern Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Essen, Museum Folkwang and Turin, Museo Civico, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Robert Motherwell, September 1965-November 1966, p. 68 (illustrated).
    City Art Museum of St. Louis, American Art in St. Louis, October-November 1969.
    St. Louis Art Museum, Contemporary Masterpieces from the Shoenberg Collection, December 1981-January 1982.