Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes)

  • Robert Motherwell, Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes), 1947, oil, paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 1994 Dedalus Foundation, Inc., Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase, 1995.2.1

Exhibition Label
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.

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

Title
Figure in Black (Girl with Stripes)
Artists
Date
1947
On View
Not on view.
Dimensions
23 7/8 x 19 3/4 in. (60.7 x 50.2 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase

Mediums
Classifications
Keywords
  • Figure female
  • Abstract
Object Number
1995.2.1
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI