Posts Tagged 'frankenthaler'

Artist’s portraits of the 1950-70s

For this study, I’ve decided to make simple lists to summarise the ideas that are brought up in relation to these photographs of artists.  Obviously,I’m taking a slightly feminist view, so my thoughts often came back to gender roles,especially as ‘gender’ has been the over-arching theme of this week’s readings (notes/thoughts on those to follow).


Click on the artist’s name to visit their site or their biography. All portraits are the work of Hans Namuth (1915-1990)


Ad Reinhardt with his family (1958 )

ad reinhardt– authority


-traditional roles (father, husband, bread-winner)


tingurly and saint phalie

Jean Tinguely and Nicky de Saint-Phalle

New York City, 1962

-Gaze(who/what is the focus on? who are we supposed to be looking at?)

-Female form (of sculpture)

-Gender roles (He’ll smoke and work, she’ll sit there, bored but pretty)


Elaine de Kooning and Willem de Kooning

East Hampton, New York      1953

-Again, ideas of focus and importance, though here it made more obvious that Willem de Kooning is the focus of the photograph due to his prominence in the foreground.

-However, it is the woman this time caught smoking, which seems somewhat unusual, though it may be considered elegant in certain cases,and rendered masculine in others (“women on fire eating meat!”, as certain male friends of mine insist on saying rather rowdily every so often)


Helen Frankenthaler

West Islip, New York    1964

-here the scene shows Frankenthaler being taught by a man (presumably another artist)

-could be seen to hint at women’s lack of skill, but equally it is just a picture of her learning something new, or of a piece she worked on with another (it’s all too easy for us to read into things- we cannot tell whether the scene is staged or not, for example).

barnettnewmanBarnett Newman

-Again,smoking (perhaps I’m a little more aware of this as someone living in the age of the ban (how would they cope?)), but this stereotype plays further- alone, male- were the decor different, it could almost be a bar.

-There is a sense of self assurance as the artists sits, back to the canvases, almost as if he were not phased by them (though he may yet be unaware of how important these pieces would become/were made to become (more on that in week 2))


In general I feel these photos show a tendancy for women to be quite literally pictured as being a different kind of/of a lower class of artist in comparison to their male contemporaries. We see this through the subtle positioning of women in the image compared to the men (often behind, in the background), and the overall feelof the image- for example,whilst Newman seems clever, independent and confident due to his aloof position away from the camera- women in images are often not portrayed so powerfully.

Helen Frankenthaler (1928- )

From 1945 to 1950 studied at Bennington College, Vermont, at the Art Students League and with Hans Hoffman in New York (his biography in the same book* fails to mention this)
After this period she went on to develop her own style of “staining” painting- ‘Frankenthaler became the first American painter after Jackson Pollock to see the implications of the color staining of raw canvas to create an integration of color and ground in which foreground and background cease to exist’** This was an influence on later artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Her painting “Mountains and the Sea” (1952) is considered to be one of the most important pieces of colour field painting.

Portrait from series by Ernest Haas 

Frankenthaler married Robert Motherwell (fact not mentioned in his biography on the same text*, and subsequently in my own piece on Motherwell (week 1c)) in 1958. This coupled with the Pollock/Krasner relationship surely prompts us to wonder about the MUTUAL source of inspiration each artist found inone another, and how it is that the women will always be more in danger to playing the minor role in such circumstances. In the same year she taught at several universities, including Princeton and Yale.

She has had a long career, well over 50 years, yet still remains relatively unknown compared to her male expressionist contemporaries. As well as painting Frankenthaler has produced work in other mediums, most notably print making.

Sources- *Art of the 20th Century (Part 1: Painting, Taschen, 2000, p.723), **,, (image)