Lot 108
  • 108

Helen Frankenthaler

500,000 - 700,000 USD
1,390,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Helen Frankenthaler
  • Lexington
  • signed twice, titled, dated '63 twice and 1963 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Janie C. Lee Gallery, Houston
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Catalogue Note

Helen Frankenthaler’s awe-inspiring paintings catapulted her to the forefront of the Color Field movement. Her signature paint-thinning technique, in which she diluted the oil paint with turpentine, coupled with an entirely revolutionary method of staining (rather than dripping or brushing paint onto) the canvas undoubtedly changed the course of art history and influenced the likes of Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Jules Olitski. Frankenthaler’s poured, thinned-down pigments would soak into the fibers of the unprimed, raw canvas forming ethereal, nebulous-looking halos around the area in which the pigment had been applied. The materiality of the colored medium (which Jackson Pollock had so recently exalted in his all-over drip paintings) became negated, literally fusing with the fibrous surface of the bare canvas support, which, in turn, became its own engaging compositional element. In one swift pouring motion, Frankenthaler both confirmed and challenged the two-dimensionality of the painted surface.

While completely innovative and influential, Frankenthaler’s techniques were widely experimental, a testament to the artist’s thirst for invention and reinvention. Lexington, executed in 1963, belongs to an important group aptly referred to as the “floorboard paintings,” due to the artist’s process. Thinking she had stained the canvases too strongly, Frankenthaler would place them face down on her wood-paneled studio floor overnight. When she “pried them off the next day,” John Elderfield writes, she “then saw on their reverse sides the familiar sight of softly disembodied color surprisingly trapped in the imprint of the floorboards. She subsequently added more opaque, intense areas to sharpen the softness—usually to frame it—and thereby produced extremely commanding, stately works that unquestionably bear her mark and affirm her stylistic continuity” (John Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, p. 172). Indeed, the final image of Lexington was once the intended verso and the horizontal floorboard imprints serve to further highlight the existence of the raw canvas as an intrinsic form.

Lexington is a seminal work in the development of Frankenthaler’s color staining technique. Though its title references the land-locked town outside of Boston, Lexington’s horizontality and division of bold, complementary colors suggest an oceanside landscape, much like the one Frankenthaler would have seen outside the Provincetown studio she shared with her then-husband Robert Motherwell. The dusky, aquatic cerulean hues are in direct opposition to the earthly amber tones, a nod to the Impressionists who championed these opposing color combinations. Similarly, the luscious swaths of scarlet are juxtaposed against the radiating emerald form, altogether resulting in a poetic and dynamic exploration of how color and form can expose the unlimited space between imagination and memory.