Marking the apex of Helen Frankenthaler’s career, Rabat from 1970, with its rich palette of predominantly teal, oranges and white, was created the year following the artist’s critical rise to stardom—when she was regarded as the most important female artist of her time. Indeed, the preceding year saw the launch of Frankenthaler’s first major retrospective, which was organized by Eugene C. Goossen at the Whitney Museum of American Art and later traveled throughout the United States and Europe where it was applauded by the critics. Later in the year, Frankenthaler was chosen as the only woman to be represented in Henry Geldzahler's ground-breaking exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as being included in the exhibition Twentieth-Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection at the Museum of Modern Art. Frankenthaler entered the 1970s being lauded as a major figure of contemporary art in America, and Rabat is a pinnacle example of this stardom.
During the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, Frankenthaler began to incorporate a more literal sense of space into the assembled forms and condensed signs that filled her canvases. As a result, her work became as much a focus on the tension between the foreground and background, as it was about the shapes and colors that her pouring technique produced. The way she maneuvered the interlocking and overlaid planes of complementary colors as she examines ideas of depth and flatness recalls the Cubist period of Picasso and the unique style of Cézanne—two artists who were a great influence on her work. In 1967, Frankenthaler said, "Color can be beautiful in terms of how it moves; yet it remains in place. If color doesn't move in space, it is only decorative." (H. Frankenthaler, quoted by J. Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, p.184). Whereas before, the artist was comfortable letting the pigment determine the contour of the shape, and now, she is determining the edges of the pigment. And it is visible in Rabat where the passages of pure, dense color abut each other in a majestic effect. Her wide travels through Europe and Morocco in 1970 are also reflected not only in the works title, but also in the artist’s chosen palette.