Abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell dies at 76Robert...


July 18, 1991|By Los Angeles Times Frances B. Wells Retired Army nurse

Abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell dies at 76

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

Joan Banach, Mr. Motherwell's curator, 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 Mr. Motherwell painted over a 30-year period, used dark, grotesque forms to suggest theend of Spanish liberty under Gen. Francisco Franco.

Another of Mr. Motherwell's elegies, a mural depicting the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was labeled "an outrage" and "hideous" by Boston critics when it was unveiled there in 1966.

The artist, however, defended it not as a concept of death but "an expression of grief for someone dead, like a requiem Mass."

Mr. Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Wash., earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stanford University in 1937 and then did graduate work at Harvard, the University of Grenoble in France and Columbia University.

After traveling in Europe, he settled in New York.

Using brilliant colors and odd shapes to convey his inner feelings, Mr. Motherwell drew on Cubists and Surrealists for his earliest inspirations.

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

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

In a 1984 interview in The New York Times, Mr. Motherwell said that he was "groping for a way for synthesizing a lifetime of work -- driving further what I find mostvaluable and dropping parts that seem less essential."

He was considered unique among the New York School of Abstract Expressionists for his ability to change with the times and still be relevant.

Mr. Motherwell also became known for his writings about art, which appeared in publications like the New Republic and Art News. He taught art for many years at Hunter College in New York.

The curator said that Mr. Motherwell's home in Greenwich, Conn., will be turned into a private museum and that many of his works will be donated to public institutions throughout the world. He is survived by his wife, Renate; two daughters; and one grandchild.

Services for Frances Belknap Wells, a retired U.S. Army nurse, will be held at 11:30 a.m. today at St. David's Episcopal Church, 4700 Roland Ave.

Mrs. Wells, who was 71, died from the effects of a stroke on Sunday at the Charlotte Hall Veteran's Home in Charlotte Hall.

Born in Baltimore, the former Frances Belknap graduated from Garrison Forest School in Baltimore and became a registered nurse after graduating from the Women's Hospital School of Nursing in 1941.

She served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nursing Corps during World War II and was stationed at the 142nd General Hospital unit in the Fiji Islands. She retired from the Army because of illness a few years after the war ended but held nursing jobs in private hospitals later.

Married during the war, she eventually left nursing to devote more time to her family. After her marriage ended in divorce, she became active in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Her second husband, James L. Wells, whom she married in the early 1970s, died from heart failure in 1986.

Mrs. Wells also loved to knit and do arts and crafts.

She is survived by two sons, J. Robert Lucas of York County, Va., and James B. Lucas of Seattle, Wash.; a daughter, Nora L. Miller of Anchorage, Ala.; two sisters, Louise B. Keeling and Elizabeth B. Green, both of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

Pearl M. Marburger

Former receptionist

Graveside services for Pearl M. Marburger will be held at 1a.m. tomorrow at Lorraine Park Cemetery, 5608 Dogwood Road.

Mrs. Marburger, who was 80 and known as "Patti," died Monday of cancer at her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

She spent many summers in Ocean City, beginning in 1978 after her marriage to Thomas E. Marburger, retired vice president for engineering and construction at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

The former Pearl M. Seniff was a native of South Bend, Ind. She had worked as a receptionist in an insurance office and, after moving to Florida in 1963, in a bank.

Her first husband, William Sundine, died in 1975.

In addition to Mr. Marburger, her survivors include a daughter, BettyAnn Umbach of Fort Lauderdale, and a brother, Joe C. Seniff of Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Virginia I. Civiletti


A Mass of Christian burial for Virginia I. Civiletti, who had been active in businesses in several cities in New York, will be offered at 11:30 a.m. today at St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, 6428 York Road.

Mrs. Civiletti, who was 73, died Tuesday of cancer at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

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