Lot 24
  • 24

Robert Motherwell

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Robert Motherwell
  • Open Study No. 4
  • acrylic and charcoal on canvas
  • 36 by 24 in. 91.4 by 61 cm.
  • Executed in 1968.


Dedalus Foundation, New York (acquired in 1991)
Private Collection (acquired in 2006)
Acquired by the present owner in 2007


Detroit, Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Robert Motherwell: Paintings and Collages, December 1972 - January 1973, cat. no. 6
Rome, Galleria d'Arte il Gabbiano, Robert Motherwell, May - June 2006, cat. no. 12, p. 25, illustrated in color
London, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Robert Motherwell: Open, June - August 2009, p. 8, illustrated in color


Mary Ann Caws, Robert Motherwell: With Pen and Brush, London, 2003, n.p., illustrated
Mary Ann Caws, "Looking: Literature's Other," PMLA Modern Language Association of America, Vol. 119, No. 5, October 2004, fig. 1, pp. 1293-94, illustrated
Jonathan Turner, "Robert Motherwell: Il Gabbiano," Artnews, Vol. 105, No. 8, September 2006, p. 156
Jack Flam, Katy Rogers and Tim Clifford, eds., Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1994-1991, Volume Two: Paintings on Canvas and Panel, New Haven, 2012, cat. no. P439, p. 246, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition overall. The canvas is unlined. The tacking edges are taped and there is evidence of very minor wear along the turning edges and corners of the canvas. Under Ultraviolet light inspection, two minor spots at the bottom left and right corners of the canvas, below the black charcoal, fluoresce darkly and appear to be the result of light restoration. Framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Robert Motherwell created a body of work with astonishing depth and diversity over the course of his career. Across his stylistic breadth, the artist was constantly engaging with a variety of approaches to abstraction, combining his deft command of expressive brushwork with a rigorous structure. Throughout his career, Motherwell was predominantly a painter who worked in series. This relatively small number of compositional starting points or subject matters intrigued him, as he explored the depths of possibilities and boundaries within each one.

Open Study No. 4, is an impressive study from Motherwell’s remarkable Open series, where the signature delineation of an open rectangular shape is indicated upon a uniform field of color. The artist brings alive a pulsating composition of ochre, a color that is Motherwell’s shorthand for the Mediterranean terrain, suggesting a world that is at once exotic and familiar. Painted with a high degree of energy and rhythm to the brushwork, the work is at once active, gestural yet also hypnotic, subsuming the viewer in its consistency and seductive saturation.

The present work fascinates through its embrace of both painterly abstraction and conceptualism. A single charcoal line, hinged twice into an asymmetrical, U-shape, is drawn with a draftsman’s accuracy, perhaps to symbolize a window or a door. Like the first iteration of an architect's plan, this serves as a visual reminder of just how elegant mathematical precision can be. This juxtaposition between an amorphous color field and the straight lines on the U-shape that divide and modulate them allow Motherwell to define a new way of resolving the age-old conflict between painting and drawing.

As a highly visible and well-respected member of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Motherwell adhered to and excelled in the movement's core stylistic value: conveying emotion through process, generally by non-representational means. This manner allowed him to at once engage and disable rational thought on the part of the viewer. He once famously asserted that “The aesthetic is the sine qua non for art: if a work is not aesthetic, it is not art by definition. But in this stage of the creative process, the strictly aesthetic…ceases to be the chief end in view…it is the creation of an object for sensing that is the artist’s task.” (Robert Motherwell in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Motherwell, New York, 1965, p. 37) Through pure abstraction, Motherwell evokes rather than describes feelings, allowing his works to connect with an audience on a deeper level, and create an inherently powerful synthesis to the composition that is remarkably harmonious and monumental.