Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Helen Frankenthaler

From: United States: New York
Fields: Art
Key Words/Phrases: abstract expressionist painter
An American Abstract Expressionist painter, Helen Frankenthaler was born December 12, 1928 in New York City, New York, U.S.A. as the youngest child of a New York Supreme Court justice. She attended private schools in New York City, then went to Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, where she studied art with the Cubist painter Paul Feeley before graduating in 1949. Back in New York, she continued studying under Hans Hofmann at the Art Students' League. From 1958 to 1971, she was married to the Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell.

Although greatly influenced by Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky and others, she soon developed her own approach to painting. She treated each painting as a new work that had its own unique requirements. She started experimenting with stain painting, where an unstretched and unprimed canvas lying on the floor would be treated with heavily diluted oil-based paints to be soaked directly into the fabric. She created silky pools of color that, although abstract, evoked images of landscapes. In 1960s, she started leaving blank areas on her canvas, so that her paintings could "breathe". Her techniques influenced other painters, especially Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis.

Frankenthaler's fame spread as shows of her work in New York, other American cities, and in Europe became well-received. In 1966 she was one of four U.S. painters represented at the Venice Biennale. She had regular exhibitions of her work at the Whitney Museum in New York City, followed in 1969 by a solo retrospective. At various times, she taught drawing and painting at Hunter College, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and Princeton. She also received many awards and prizes for her paintings. The Guggenheim Museum in New York exhibited her work in an individual show in 1985 and the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented her retrospective in 1989.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

1. Women Artists: An Illustrated History, by Nancy G. Heller, Abbeville Press, 1991
2. Her Heritage: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Famous American Women, CD ROM, Pilgrim New Media, Inc., 1994 (http://www.PLGRM.com)
3. Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia


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