Lot 41
  • 41


2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Robert Motherwell
  • Red, Cut By Black
  • signed, titled, and dated 1966-67 on the reverse
  • oil and acrylic on canvas
  • 82 by 114 in. 208.3 by 289.6 cm.


Rachofsky Collection, Dallas (acquired in 1985)
Daniel Liberman (acquired in 1999) 
Private Collection, Florida (acquired in 1999) 
Sotheby's New York, May 10, 2006, Lot 58 (consigned by the above)
Maurice Marciano, Los Angeles
Sotheby’s New York, November 12, 2014, Lot 162 
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Knoedler & Co., Inc., New Acquisitions, May 1985 
New York, Knoedler & Co., Inc., Group Show, June - August 1985


Jack Flam, Katy Rogers and Tim Clifford, eds., Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941-1991, Vol. 2: Paintings on Canvas and Panel, New Haven and London, 2012, p. 210, no. P372, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

In its fusion of compelling forms and rhythmic gesture, Red, Cut by Black from 1966-67 offers viewers an intimate glimpse of the virtuosic painterly abstraction that characterizes Robert Motherwell’s celebrated practice. A vision of red enveloping the viewer in scale and depth, the present work resonates with the angst and profound psychological state of the 1960s. Like many of his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, Motherwell had been deeply affected by the horrors of World War II, the atrocities of which could only be understood by and communicated via the language of abstraction. Thunderous in scale and color, Red, Cut by Black exemplifies the very emotions Motherwell believed all art was obligated to communicate: “The need is for felt experience – intense, immediate, direct, subtle, unified, warm, vivid, rhythmic.” (The artist quoted in Frank O’Hara, "Robert Motherwell: with selections from the artist’s writings," New York, 1965 The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, 1965, p.45). The mid-1960s proved to be a pivotal moment for Motherwell; in September 1965, he was honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which subsequently travelled to Europe, bringing his particular vision of abstraction to a new audience. Motherwell had just completed a series of ‘automatic’ pictures in ink on Japanese rice paper, inspiration that can be seen in the present work through the bold use of calligraphic line. Following these ‘automatic pictures,’ Motherwell embarked on his Open Series, a body of work distinguished by its reflective nature as the artist assessed his career. Bright crimson pulses across the monumental canvas in a richly-saturated swath of color; through this red sea, a black blade runs across the length of the painting and evokes the descriptive title Red, Cut by Black. Like Mark Rothko, Motherwell felt particularly struck by the color red and its power to evoke a variety of emotions; in the artist’s own words: “The pure red of which certain abstractionists speak does not exist, no matter how one shifts its physical contexts. Any red is rooted in blood, glass, wine, hunters’ caps, and a thousand other concrete phenomena. Otherwise, we would have no feeling toward red or its relations, and it would be useless as an artistic element.” (The artist quoted in Dore Ashton, ed., The Writings of Robert Motherwell, Berkley, 2007, p. 55) The dynamic prolongation of wide black strokes acts both like a color block and a chasm separating the passages of red, creating a tension and rhythmic energy that swells with an arresting timbre.

In the final lines of a letter to Frank O’Hara written in August 1965, just months before he embarked on this ambitious painting, Motherwell recalled a conversation with peer Barnett Newman: “Barnett Newman for years has said that when he reads my writings, he learns what I have been reading, but when he wants to know what I am really concerned with at a given moment, he looks at my pictures. He’s right.” (The artist quoted in O’Hara, Op. Cit., p. 70) At once lyrical and unruly, meditative and demanding, the compelling and forceful abstraction of Red, Cut by Black draws viewers in towards a consideration of the fundamental qualities of the human condition.