Helen Frankenthaler Facts

Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract artist best known for her ‘colour field’ works.

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Facts About Helen Frankenthaler

  • Helen Frankenthaler was born in New York in 1928.
  • Her father was a New York State Supreme Court judge.
  • Helen Frankenthaler’s nephew is the photographer and artists Clifford Ross.
  • She attended the Dalton School where one of her tutors was the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo.
  • She also studied at Bennington College. The artist Paul Feeley was the director of Bennington’s art department.
  • After her graduation in 1949, Helen Frankenthaler apprenticed with the artist Wallace Harrison, and then with the German painter Hans Hofmann.
  • In 1958, Helen Frankenthaler married the painter Rober Motherwell. They divorced in 1971.
  • She worked as an artist for nearly 60 years.
  • She attended a Jackson Pollock exhibition in 1950 and was inspired by his art and his process.
  • Helen Frankenthaler was also influenced by the watercolour paintings of Paul Cezanne and John Marin, and the work of Willem de Kooning.
  • Mountains and the Sea was the first of Helen Frankenthaler’s works to be exhibited.
  • In the 1970’s, she collaborated with Kenneth E Tyler on a series of woodcuts for a work titled Essence of Mulberry.
  • Her first solo exhibition took place at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1951.
  • Her work has since been exhibited in cities all over the world, including Paris, Chicago, New York, London, Toronto, and Boston.
  • Helen Frankenthaler dies in 2011. She was 83 years old.
  • She had studios located in Darien, Connecticut, US, and East 83rd Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan.
  • Some of her notable works include Blue Territory, Scattered Shapes, and Small Paradise.
  • In 2022, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation committed $2.5 million in grants to help protect Ukraine’s at-risk artists and cultural heritage.
  • Helen Frankenthaler’s work often sells for millions of dollars at auction. Royal Fireworks, for example, sold for $7.8 million in 2021.

What is Helen Frankenthaler’s art style?

Because she worked as an artist for nearly six decades, Helen Frankenthaler’s style changed and evolved throughout her career.

Her work was initially categorized as abstract expressionism.

In the late 1950s, she began to experiment with round forms and linear shapes, in the 1960s she produced symmetrical compositions, and in the 1970s she started to use bright colours and thicker paint.

Her 1960s works were often described as ‘colour field paintings’ because she painted large areas of colour on her canvases, and preferred simplified compositions.

I’d rather risk an ugly surprise than rely on things I know I can do. The whole business of spotting; the small area of color in a big canvas; how edges meet; how accidents are controlled; all this fascinates me

Helen Frankenthaler

For much of her career, Helen Frankenthaler used a ‘soak stain’ technique, allowing thinned oil paints to soak directly into unprimed canvases.

Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaler often painted with her canvas laying on the floor.

Her style is sometimes described as lyrical abstraction.

There are no rules… that is how art is born, that is how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules, that is what invention is about.

Helen Frankenthaler