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Property from a Private Chicago Collection


signed 'Frankenthaler' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
93 3/4 x 99 1/2 in. (237 x 252 cm.)
Painted in 1972.
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Private collection, Winnetka, Illinois
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 15 November 2006, lot 166
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Twelve American Painters, September–October 1974, pp. 32 and 35 (illustrated).

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of the 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Color and luminosity lie at the center of Helen Frankenthaler’s expansive and atmospheric canvas from 1972, titled Earliness. Her use of pigment and brushstrokes produces compositions that are both organic and fluid, while her approach to color emphasizes its emotive power. While other artists of the time focused on the materiality of the paint layered onto a canvas, Frankenthaler’s approach was much different. Her soak-stain technique involved diluting paint and pouring it onto unprimed canvases, allowing the pigment to seep into the fibrous fabric and create a soft, translucent effect. The materials truly melt together, as the colors bleed and blend into one another, creating a unification of paint and canvas in a way not seen before. This technique works to produce beautiful, luscious works filled with fluid washes of color.
Emerging in the 1950s and ‘60s, the Color Field movement was a reaction to the gestural and expressive style of abstract expressionism. Color Field painters such as Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, and Morris Louis sought to explore the emotional and psychological power of color through large and unbroken fields of color. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote to his wife on the subject of color, in regard to a work by Paul Cezanne: “Everything… has become an affair that’s settled among the colors themselves: a color will come into its own in response to another, or assert itself, or recollect itself. Just as in the mouth of a dog various secretions will gather in anticipation at the approach of various things – consenting ones for drawing out nutrients, and correcting ones to neutralize poisons: in the same way, intensifications and dilutions take place in the core of every color, helping it to survive contact with others. In addition to this glandular activity within the intensity of colors, reflections… play the greatest role: weaker local colors abandon themselves completely, contenting themselves with reflecting the dominant ones” (R. Rilke, quoted in J. Elderfield, Line Into Color, Color Into Line: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings 1962-1987, 2016, p. 8). These words so beautifully reflect the experience of looking at the abstract paintings of Helen Frankenthaler, as her “color makes its presence known and exerts itself with all the vivid energies that Rilke saw in Cezanne” (J. Elderfield, Line Into Color, Color Into Line: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings 1962-1987, 2016, p. 8).
A range of yellows and ochres dominate this magnificent seven by eight foot canvas. The blend of colors is both eye-catching and energizing, glowing like the early morning sun. This light-filled, vibrant wash of paint creates depth and soft texture, as it layers upon itself. The yellow space is not a flat, uniform color, but rather a mix of lighter and darker shades that lend a sense of depth and complexity to the picture plane. This effect is further heightened by the way that Frankenthaler allows the paint to pool and drip in certain areas, creating ranges of thicker and thinner paint that add to the overall movement and fluidity of the composition. Two figure-like lines of deep purple and green live within the world of yellow, each surrounded by a halo effect of light. The viewer can see the hand of Frankenthaler in this work, as the paint is rubbed away, splotchy in some areas, adding to the dimensionality and quality.
Helen Frankenthaler's Earliness is a powerful and visually stunning painting that showcases her unique style and approach to abstract expressionism. The painting is both bold and delicate, with a mix of vibrant colors and nuanced brushstrokes that creates a sense of depth and movement. Through her use of negative space and subtle color contrasts, Frankenthaler is able to create a dynamic and balanced composition that is both pleasing to the eye and emotionally resonant. Controlled and spontaneous, she displays her skill with the use of color and paint as a material. This work is a testament to Frankenthaler's artistic vision and her enduring legacy as one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.

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