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Frankenthaler, Helen

The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists

Ian Chilvers

Frankenthaler, Helen 

(b New York, 12 Dec. 1928; d Darien, Conn., 27 Dec. 2011).

American painter, an important figure in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Colour Field Painting. In her early work she was influenced by Jackson Pollock and she developed his drip technique by pouring and running very thin paint—like washes of watercolour—onto canvases laid on the floor. She first used this method in Mountains and Sea (1952, on loan to NG, Washington), which is regarded as one of the seminal works of post-war American painting. It particularly impressed Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland when they saw it in her studio in 1953. In 1962 Frankenthaler switched from oil to acrylic paint, which allowed her to achieve more richly saturated colour. Her limpid veils of colour float on the surface of the canvas, but they often evoke suggestions of landscape. From 1960 Frankenthaler also made aquatints, lithographs, and woodcuts; in 1964 she began to work in ceramics; and in 1972 she made her first sculpture. From 1958 to 1971 she was married to Robert Motherwell.