Helen Frankenthaler, 83, 'Seminal' Painter

Helen Frankenthaler died Monday in her home on Contentment Island, where she lived since 1999. Critics and obituary writers have extolled her as a major American artist.

Helen Frankenthaler, an influential painter of abstract art, died Monday at the age of 83 in her Darien home, where she had lived since 1999.

Some of Frankenthaler's paintings were "seen as seminal works in the development of abstract expressionism," according to Reuters news service. Frankenthaler was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2002.

In 1952, when she was 23, Frankenthaler painted Mountains and the Sea, an "iconic painting," wrote critic James Panero, "that forever secured her place in the history of art. It was a work that at once defined Frankenthaler’s style and changed the visual texture of abstract painting." Panero wrote that the work "built on the achievements" of the painter Jackson Pollock, "—but it also outdid Pollock."

Nor was Panero the only one to think so.

Some of Frankenthaler's paintings were "seen as seminal works in the development of abstract expressionism," according to Reuters news service. Frankenthaler was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2002.

"Frankenthaler's achievement is to have put the language of abstraction to the service of art's historic need to address large ideas," wrote Eric Gibson, leisure and arts features editor for The Wall Street Journal in Tuesday's edition of that newspaper. "As such she occupies an enduring place in the pantheon of American masters."

Roberta Smith, writing in The New York Times, compared Frankenthaler to the sculptor John Chamberlain, who also recently died: "Both brought a new, unfettered approach to materials that pushed their respective mediums toward greater expressive freedom, unabashed physicality and a rough-edged, aggressively color-based beauty. These qualities became identifying hallmarks of American art, especially in the 1960s, but remain crucial to it even now."

According to her obituary in The New York Times, Frankenthaler had divorced fellow painter Robert Motherwell in 1971. Twenty-three years later, in 1994, she married Stephen M. DuBrul Jr., an investment banker and former head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the Times reported

Living and painting on Contentment Island, which had been developed by the 19th-century painter Vincent Colyer, may have affected Frankenthaler. "Water, sky and their shifting light are often reflected in her later imagery," according to her obituary in the Times.

In 2003, Ted Loos interviewed Frankenthaler at her home: "The perfect place to discuss these saturated pictures with Ms. Frankenthaler is at her home in Connecticut. (She declines to say which town.) Water is close by: not only does she have a view of Long Island Sound, but one of its calm coves makes up most of her backyard."

Along with her husband, Frankenthaler is survived by two stepdaughters, Jeannie and Lise Motherwell, and six nieces and nephews, according to The Times obituary.

Editor's note: Here are more links to obituaries, articles and Web pages about Helen Frankenthaler and her art (a YouTube video is also attached to this article):


"Helen Frankenthaler obituary" (The Guardian)

"Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)" (Art in America magazine)

"Helen Frankenthaler, esteemed abstract artist for six decades, dies at 83 in Connecticut" (ArtDaily Newsletter)

"Abstract Artist Helen Frankenthaler Dies At Age 83" (National Public Radio)

Other articles and web pages:

"Helen Frankenthaler - abstract expressionist - part 1" (Poul Webb blog)

"Helen Frankenthaler" (Artcyclopedia Web page)

"Jerry Saltz: On Helen Frankenthaler, 2928-2011" (New York magazine)


"Canal" at the Guggenheim Museum website

"Jacobs Ladder" at the Museum of Modern Art website

Arts Connected: works by Helen Frankenthaler




Tony Scrivener December 28, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Sad to hear of Helen's passing, she created some amazing. She was a inspiration to many artists including myself. Tony Scrivener


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