ROBERT MOTHERWELL was born in Aberdeen, WA in 1915. He received a B A from Stanford University in 1937, and later completed post-graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. In 1940 Motherwell studied briefly at Columbia University with the renowned art historian Meyer Schapiro, who encouraged him to pursue painting. He went on to become one of the seminal figures of the American Abstract Expressionist movement.
Beginning in the mid-1940s, Motherwell became the leading spokesperson for avant-garde art in America. He lectured widely on abstract painting, and he founded and edited the Documents of Modern Art series. In 1948, he began to work with his celebrated Elegy to the Spanish Republic theme, which he continued to develop throughout his life.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Motherwell exhibited widely at museums in the United States and Europe. In 1958–59, he was included in The New American Painting exhibition, initiated by the Museum of Modern Art, which was shown in numerous European cities. That year he traveled in Spain and France, where he started his Iberia series.
Throughout the 1960s, Motherwell exhibited widely in both America and Europe, and in 1965 he was given a major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. This show subsequently traveled to Amsterdam, London, Brussels, Essen, and Turin.
Motherwell began to work on his Open series in 1967, and in 1970, he moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. During the 1970s and 1980s, he continued to create new series of works and to exhibit widely. He had important retrospective exhibitions in a number of European cities, including Düsseldorf, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Edinburgh, and London. In 1977, Motherwell was given a major mural commission for the new wing of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
In 1983, a large retrospective exhibition of Motherwell’s work was mounted at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. This exhibition was subsequently shown in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New York City. An additional retrospective was shown in Mexico City, Monterey, and Fort Worth, Texas in 1991.
His work may be found in such permanent collections as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain; Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; the Tate Modern, London, England; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
Motherwell was the recipient of numerous awards including the Guggenheim International Award of Merit in 1964, Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture of the City of New York in 1981, the Edward MacDowell Colony Medal in 1985, National Medal of Arts in 1989, La Medalla de Oro de Bellas Artes, Spain in 1989. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970.
Robert Motherwell died in 1991 at the age of 76 in Provincetown, MA.