"Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it."
- Robert Motherwell
Born in 1915 in Aberdeen, Washington, Robert Motherwell showed an early talent for art, receiving a fellowship to the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, at the age of eleven. He subsequently studied briefly at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, in 1932, but his preference for academic study led him to complete his BA in philosophy at Stanford University in 1937.
After graduating, Motherwell initially intended to continue his philosophical studies, and to that end he relocated to New York City in 1940 to study with Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University. Schapiro, however, encouraged him to pursue his artistic practice. Motherwell quickly became an active member of the city’s robust art scene and met other artists working there at the time, such as Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, and Willem de Kooning. In 1944, he gained acclaim from a solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s influential gallery Art of This Century. Two years later, the San Francisco Museum of Art gave him another one-man show, and he was also included in the seminal Fourteen Americansexhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One of the leading American artists of the time, he held numerous teaching and lecture positions throughout the United States, and his work began to be shown in Europe.
Motherwell met fellow painter and Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler in 1957, and they were married the following year. The two artists encouraged each other artistically throughout their thirteen-year marriage. After their divorce Motherwell moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, though he continued to travel frequently for teaching engagements and exhibitions. He died in 1991 at the age of seventy-six, leaving an enduring cultural legacy from his contributions to postwar American art and his writings on art and philosophy. His work can be found in the collections at such prestigious institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.