HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928-2011)
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928-2011)
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928-2011)
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928-2011)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more THE ROGER SANT COLLECTION
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928-2011)

Bride’s Door

Details
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928-2011)
Bride’s Door
signed and dated ‘Frankenthaler 67’ (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
82 3/8 x 61 3/4 in. (209.2 x 156.8 cm.)
Painted in 1967.
Provenance
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles
Becky and Pete Smith Collection, Sun Valley, Idaho
John Berggruen Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2010
Literature
J. Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, pp. 196 and 399 (illustrated).
W. Beckett, Sister Wendy's American Masterpieces, New York, 2000, p. 41 (illustrated).
M. Paskin, "Major Frankenthaler Show in San Francisco," San Francisco Examiner, April 19, 2010, p. 25.
Exhibited
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler, Paintings 1961-1973, April-June 2010, pp. 38-39, no. 11 (illustrated).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Lot Essay

Working on the heroic scale for which she has become acclaimed, Helen Frankenthaler paints Bride’s Door, from 1967, with monumental scale and emotion. Commiserate with the likes of history painting or royal portraiture, the sheer size of this work imbues it with a ceremonial aura. The thematic underpinning of marriage bestowed by the title turns this thought of portraiture to one acutely of wedding portraiture. Perhaps an abstract portrait of a bride on the precipice of marriage, the present example signifies a union, a moment of transition at the altar of a new stage in one’s life. The white passage draped over the center-right of the canvas can be interpreted as a veil of a literal kind, or even a stand-in for the bride herself. As such, the bare canvas that rests in the center of this composition may be considered a doorway. Crossing over the threshold into this glorious passage, the present example rings with the chiming of wedding bells.
Though Frankenthaler’s process of sending diluted washes of pigment across the canvas is a largely abstract method, her appraisal in dubbing the finished composition a door is appropriate. With its dimension and vertical orientation, one feels by walking up to this work that they might even walk through it. For its imposing size, color here is used with restraint but also great purpose. Moments of encroaching red, blue, green, and ochre on the left, right, and top edges of the painting carve contours between the void of raw canvas and the central white plane.
A child of a Jewish household in New York City’s Upper East Side, Bride’s Door immediately elucidates the ceremonial traditions of a Jewish wedding, with the washes of color building a vibrant chuppah canopy under which the viewer may envision their own relationships. The tri-edge to the portal Frankenthaler has created in this painting mimics the canopy, not only in shape but in its power to materialize the nebulous space one occupies on the brink of matrimony. It is a mystical dwelling imbued with the power of transformation: a couple enters the space created by the canopy unwed, and emerges divinely bonded.
The use of color does more than aid in compositional structure, also signifying to the viewer the emotional stakes of the work. White is so often thought of as an absence in painting or as an indicator of light, that to see its commanding use in this work is startling. Associations of innocence and purity are never far from either the color white or the subject of a bride, however this white is not such a reflection. Thrown against the true absence of the raw canvas bare and uncompromised, the large swath of white takes on a full presence and sparks consideration of mystery and the clean slate of possibility.
The red and blue stand as parallel pillars of a rich, primary character. Ribbons of luminous green and ochre wave across the top-right. It is in these areas of the painting that the staining technique pioneered by Frankenthaler, and for which she is renowned, becomes especially apparent. Acrylic thinned with turpentine is soaked into the canvas, as opposed to brushed on, and creates a sense of unity with its fibers. The edges of these planes of color fan out into the woven threads like capillaries, creating on the micro-level an effect as intricate and delicate as lace. Taken in in its totality from afar, this translates to a more seamless appearance. Or, as New Yorker contributor Adam Gopnik remarked in a recent article, “Frankenthaler’s images seep into the material; there really is no paint surface as we think of it, no top to be on top of.” (A. Gopnik, “Helen Frankenthaler and the Messy Art of Life,” in The New Yorker, April 12, 2021).
Frankenthaler’s process dovetails nicely with the themes of marriage. Adam Gopnik further comments in his article that “by using the paint to stain, rather than to stroke, (Frankenthaler) elevated the components of the living mess of life: the runny, the spilled, the spoiled, the vivid.” (A. Gopnik, “Helen Frankenthaler and the Messy Art of Life,” in The New Yorker, April 12, 2021) The abstraction employed by the composition leads the viewer - and the bride - to an open possibility of the future, while the process of creation and its visual traces remind them of the lack of control one has over life’s course. Painted almost a decade after her own marriage to fellow abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell, and just four years prior to their eventual divorce, Frankenthaler was at a precarious vantagepoint with which to consider moving through the bride’s door. Neither hopeful nor cynical, there is no definitive wisdom this door dispels on the subject of marriage, only the offer of passage, transformation, and the possibilities it entices if one were to walk through.

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