Robert Motherwell, Wall Painting III, 1952, oil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 1994, Dedalus Foundation, Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum, 1995.2.3
Throughout his career, Motherwell infused his work with human themes, autobiographical allusions, and elegies of human loss and struggle. He considered the modern artist to be a traveler whose life was a spiritual voyage. For him Wall Painting III was both epic and joyous. He described the star-like ochre shape at the left as a figural form that pushes against boundaries. Its organic counterpart dances at the right in a celebration of life akin to figures in the great cutouts of Matisse. Flat, frontal, and expansive, it is a statement of personal and artistic confidence.
Modern Masters: Midcentury Abstraction from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2008
The radiant ochre shape on the left is both a stylized, six-pointed Star of David and a form that Motherwell called a "figure" in other paintings. On the right is a darker shape that the artist also described as a figure. If we read this image from right to left—as we would the Torah—the painting evokes the Jews' passage from the darkness of the Holocaust to the joy of living freely and in obedience to the Commandments.
Motherwell fought against the tendency of modern artists to isolate themselves from the world while they searched for a pure art. He wrote in a private letter that he enjoyed collaborating with the synagogues, "neither for money nor fame," but because he wanted to work with others "as one human being to another."
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
Wall Painting III
- On View
- Not on view.
48 x 72 in. (121.9 x 182.9 cm.)
© 1994, Dedalus Foundation
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Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum
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