Lot 142
  • 142

Helen Frankenthaler

600,000 - 800,000 USD
1,095,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Helen Frankenthaler
  • Weights and Shapes
  • signed, titled and dated 1983 on the reverse 
  • acrylic on canvas


John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler: New Paintings, November - December 1983, pl. 1, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Radiating an aura of calm and balance, Helen Frankenthaler’s Weights and Shapes exemplifies the artist’s pioneering approach to depicting volume and mass through lyrical abstraction. The present work is a product of the artist’s move towards visible gesture and mark-making in the late 1970s, and is rife with surface variation and impasto in addition to the expansive stains for which she well known. Contextualizing this mode of working as a means of producing abstract climates, Frankenthaler pursued a painterly strategy that relied on the interaction of color and line in order to forge complex rhythmic interplays and a sense of volume in her work, imbuing her paintings with a spatial presence without relying on specific representations.

In order to achieve the inimitable visual effect of the present work, Frankenthaler applied pigment to her canvas, allowing it to soak in, producing an ethereal stain that would at once become inextricable from the fibers of the support. Frankenthaler’s inventiveness made her one of the most important painters in post-war abstraction, cementing her role as a leader of the Color Field movement. By developing a process that rendered a completely distinct effect from that of laying paint on top of canvas, Frankenthaler helped to establish the canvas as integral to the object quality of the work itself, and in addition, was hugely influential to other artists of the day such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.  

The present work is rife with the interplay between Frankenthaler’s pioneering stain technique, and compositionally sophisticated inflections of vibrant color. Springing out against the serene background are glowing hues of green, blue, red, and yellow. When taken as a whole, these chromatic deposits imbue Weights and Shapes with a musical quality; the smoldering orange passage is a sharp staccato note, ringing over the attenuated silence of the muted ground, and the subdued mustard running along the bottom of the canvas a triumphant bass, vital and booming. 

The stain itself exhibits a startling complexity and vibrancy, modulating between more passive spreads and triumphant swooping gestures. Additionally this ground transitions between moments of incredible material density and rich color, and lighter more delicate passages, which seem to dance along the surface of the work. Taken together, these elements establish Weights and Shapes as a culmination of Frankenthaler’s mastery over the elusive and most fundamental elements of painting.