Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
Property From a Private West Coast Collection 
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)

The Wedding

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
The Wedding
oil on canvas
69¾ x 76 in. (177.1 x 193 cm.)
Painted in 1958.
Joseph H. Hirschhorn, 1959
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1966
M. Knoedler & Company, New York, 1981
Jean Albano Contemporary Art, Chicago
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. M. Coates, "The Art Galleries: Styles and Personalities," New Yorker 34, no. 48, 17 January 1959, p. 78.
E.C. Goossen, "Robert Motherwell and the Seriousness of Subject," Art International 3, nos. 1-2, January-February 1959, p. 51 (illustrated).
S. Preston, "Art: Many Viewpoints; New Shows Run the Gamut of Twentieth Century's Styles and Schools," New York Times, 10 January 1959, p. 15.
J. Schuyler, "Review and Previews," Art News 57, no. 9, p. 10.
H. H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1977, p. 43.
H. H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1982, p. 43.
D. Cateforis, "Robert Motherwell's 'Figure Before Blackness'," Spencer Museum of Art Register 7, no. 3, July 2000-June 2001, p. 8. J. Flam, K. Rogers and T. Clifford, Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages, A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941-1991, New Haven and London, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 108-109, no. P172 (illustrated in color).
New York, Sidney Janis, Robert Motherwell, January 1959, pl. 6 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., United States Information Agency, 1961, no. 50.

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Jonathan Laib
Jonathan Laib

Lot Essay

Robert Motherwell's The Wedding was executed during an extremely fertile period of his career and the year of its execution marked a major personal milestone. According to the Robert Motherwell catalogue raisonne, Motherwell painted this work around the time of his marriage to the artist Helen Frankenthaler in April of 1958. The painting plays an important role in demonstrating his feelings for Frankenthaler as they tend to do within the canvases of this period. In a way, The Wedding is the marker of significance where his declaration of love evident in his series Je t'aime (which is not specifically addressed to Frankenthaler) is thus solidified into a union of two beings implied in The Wedding. Two large black edifices are placed in a field of ochre, and there is evidence of penti-menti between the two "figures," where two ovals were placed within a triangular form, a motif found in Je t'aime. The two forms, which Motherwell took pains to differentiate from each other, seem to swell and engulf the space around them, as one grand, assertive shape looms over the slimmer, more delicate form. At the center of the painting, the shapes touch at their contours and merge in a tender touch.

While the work exhibits the artist's signature use of ochre and black that conveys a primitive timelessness, it prefigures his first visit to Spain and the Lascaux caves in France as part of his honeymoon itinerary. For the artist the ideal "Mediterraean" state loomed very dominantly in his imagination, and preoccupation that was evident in his earliest work. From the late 1950s and onwards, there appears to be a greater freedom of expression an spontaenity, and the canvases grew larger in scale as a platform to this expressions. It is clear both husband and wife benefited from influences from each other, disparate as they may be. "At the same time that Frankenthaler's involvement with 'the more deliberative and theoretical Motherwell' lent her work greater density and opacity, it also heightened her awareness of how important it was for her to maintain her own impulsiveness. Similarly, while Motherwell gained from her an appreciation of how liberating and expressive transparent flows of paint could be, the looseness of her drawing and her freedom from distinguishing clearly between figure and ground made him aware of how important both linear precision and maintaining distinctions between figure and ground were to him." (J. Flam, et al., Robert Mothewell: A Catalogue Raisonne, 1941-1991, Paintings and Collages, Volume One, p. 94.)

The Wedding prefigures the Two Figures series which the artist has acknowledged the figures to be himself and Frankenthaler. There are various iterations of the two black figures suspended in space that have structure of Motherwell's earlier paintings, and yet, they possess the fresh rawness in the way the paint strokes are applied to the surface. There is an element of a lack of pretense and direct engagement with the materials at hand. The Wedding is absolutely instrumental in the critical evolution of Motherwell's painting from early to mature work.

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