Abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell dies

July 18, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

Robert Motherwell, whose sometimes stark, sometimes brilliant canvases made him a dominant and ongoing presence in abstract expressionism, has died.

Joan Banach, Motherwell's curator in Greenwich, Conn., said yesterday that he had suffered a stroke Tuesday at his summer home in Provincetown, Mass., and died en route to a hospital. He was 76.

Perhaps his best-known work, the series "Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134," brought $880,000 at auction in New York in May 1989.

The series, which Motherwell painted over a 30-year period, used dark, grotesque forms to suggest the end of Spanish liberty under Gen. Francisco Franco. He quit painting them after Franco died in 1975 and democracy was re-established in Spain.

Primarily self-taught, his work in the early 1940s consisted of ambitious collages and austere abstractions devoted to such disparate subjects as Spanish prisons or children's toys.

As the 1940s ended, Motherwell expanded from the little, satirical paintings he had been fashioning to large canvases.

He is survived by his wife, Renate; two daughters; and one grandchild. From 1958 to 1971, he was married to artist Helen Frankenthaler.

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