Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes)

Media - 1995.2.1 - SAAM-1995.2.1_1 - 67962
Copied Robert Motherwell, Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes), 1947, oil and paper on fiberboard, 23 7819 34 in. (60.750.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase, 1995.2.1, © 1994 Dedalus Foundation, Inc.

Artwork Details

Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes)
Not on view
23 7819 34 in. (60.750.2 cm.)
upper right in oil: R. M (triangle) 7 back center in oil: R Motherwell/47 back upper center in black paint: "Girl/with/Stripes" back right in white pencil: 600.MAD (written sideways) back upper right in pencil: #60 (written at an angle and upside-down) frame verso right runner near bottom in black ink: 6902 (written sideways)
© 1994 Dedalus Foundation, Inc.
Credit Line
Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase
Mediums Description
oil and paper on fiberboard
  • Figure female
  • Nonrepresentational
  • Abstract
Object Number

Artwork Description

The black stripes at the right of Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes) can be read as long, painted strokes executed by a figure who looks directly out at the viewer. In it Motherwell asserts the primal act of the artist and links the simple black stick figure with prehistoric painters who applied marks to the walls of ancient caves. In 1947 Motherwell remarked that all the figures in his paintings were self-portraits, and he related the color ochre to his childhood in Southern California. “Certain childhood impressions last a lifetime. …The color I’ve consistently used throughout my painting life has been yellow ochre, and the hills of California most of the year are yellow ochre.”

Modern Masters: Midcentury Abstraction from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2008
Luce Center Label

Robert Motherwell experimented with abstract figure painting during the 1940s, creating images that resembled primitive cave drawings. Here, the textured background of chalky white and yellow ocher sets off the thick black brushstrokes. Motherwell was inspired by the psychologist Carl Jung, who wrote that creativity was an instinctive drive that comes from deep within our unconscious. Figure in Black is an abstract painting of colors and lines, but it also suggests deep-seated symbols that we do not fully understand. Motherwell devoted most of his life to working in limited color and especially enjoyed working with the “inexhaustible” mysteries of black (1977 interview by Barbaralee Diamonstein, in Arnason, Robert Motherwell, 1982).

Luce Object Quote

“Perhaps I feel happiest when, during the creative process, I simply let work ‘pour out.’” Motherwell, interview by Barbaralee Diamonstein, 1977, in Arnason, Robert Motherwell, 1982