In Blue Ochre with Gauloises
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
In Blue Ochre with Gauloises, 1967
Acrylic and collage on paper
30 5/8 x 22 1/2 inches
Signed and dated upper left: "Motherwell / 67"
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York
Dedalus Foundation, 1991
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
Private collection, 2004
This work bears the artist's studio number C67-591.
This work is included in the artist's catalogue raisonné under the number C190.
Art Museum, Princeton University, NJ, Robert Motherwell: Recent Work, 5 January - 17
February 1973, cat. no. 45, illus. p. 74.
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, Robert Motherwell, 10 June - 12 July 2003, cat. no.
Flam, Jack, et. al., Robert Motherwell: Paintings and Collages, A Catalogue Raisonné,
1941-1991. Vol. 3: Collages and Paintings on Paper and Paperboard. (Yale UP: New
Haven, 2012), Illus., p. 120, cat. no. C190.
Artist Robert Motherwell created collages throughout his career, fully integrating the
medium into his wider practice as he developed his characteristic expressive marks in
the flattened picture planes of both painting and collage. His collages incorporate torn
pieces of paper and other found materials such as envelopes, packaging, sheet music,
and even his own paintings. In 1975, Peter Schjeldahl praised the collages, describing
them as “lyrical, sensuous, technically various and formally inventive.” (1)
Much of their success lies in the combination of bold gesture and small detail. In Blue
Ochre with Gauloises combines torn bits of Gauloises cigarette packaging with the
artist’s signature sweeping, splashily gestural paint application. Motherwell has said of
his collages that they carry a greater weight of autobiography than his work in other
media: “The collages do tend to be autobiographical, but not in a terribly personal
sense. Most of what goes into them are items that attract me … from those that arrive at
the house in the form of wrappings and packages from parcel post, books from Europe
and so forth. The lettering in cigarette package labels, the notes in musical scores –
which I can’t read – act as details in the same way as the many strokes of the pen in
Van Gogh’s drawings.” (2)
Aesthetic ideas often cross-pollinated between the artist’s paintings and collages, and
In Blue Ochre with Gauloises incorporates fragments of a torn cigarette carton with a
composition reminiscent of Motherwell’s Beside the Sea series of paintings, a series
which stretched throughout the 1960s. It was during this period that Motherwell began to
incorporate everyday objects into his collages, rather than the fine art papers of his
earlier collaged works. With this move, “the process of selecting things from the real
word and placing them in another context created fresh energies and new layers of
associations” for the work. (3) Motherwell himself felt this energy, and in a 1967 letter to
Herbert Ferber described the group of collages created in the summer of that year—of
which this is one—as “joyful & colorful.” (4)
Throughout his career, collage was an integral part of Motherwell’s artistic process.
Even more so than painting, the medium was conducive to experimentation and his
approach to it was multifaceted. As art historian Dore Ashton has written: “The artist
takes pleasure in contrasting surfaces and spatial placements; in tearing, cutting, and
gluing…But there are other approaches in the same mode. Collage serves Motherwell
as a journal, a hausbuch, an album, a souvenir. It is as topical as a specific day in Paris,
or Provincetown, or Madrid, or Mexico City. It is as wide-ranging as the spirit which flows
on, unperturbed, as the mundane events of a day mark off real time...The mode in
collage is keyed to the intimate, the informal, the lyrical, the spontaneous in most
instances.” (5) Early in his career, Motherwell became involved with collage when Peggy
Guggenheim organized an important exhibition of collages by Picasso, Henri Matisse,
Georges Braque, Joan Miró, Kurt Schwitters. and Max Ernst at the Art of This Century
Gallery in 1943, and asked Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes to exhibit
as well. In preparation for the exhibition, Pollock and Motherwell experimented together
in Pollock’s studio. Although Pollock would not continue working in the collage medium,
the experience greatly impacted Motherwell’s artistic development. (6)
Robert Motherwell was born on January 24, 1915 in Aberdeen, Washington. As a child,
he moved with his family to California, first to Los Angeles and then to San Francisco.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1937, he pursued
graduate studies in philosophy at Harvard (1937-38). He spent a year in Paris and then
moved to New York in 1940, where he studied art history with Meyer Schapiro at
Columbia University. Shapiro introduced him to the European artists who were now in
New York and that same year Motherwell traveled with Matta to Mexico. He soon gave
up his academic career to be a painter.
Motherwell moved easily between the worlds of art and literature. His art would forever
be accentuated by his deep passion for history, literature, and the human condition.
From the beginning, Motherwell strove to evoke a moral and political experience through
his art. As an example, the artist drew on the writing of James Joyce for titles to his
paintings, drawings, and prints throughout his career. His most famous series, Elegy to
the Spanish Republic, which Motherwell revisited over 200 times from small preparatory
studies to paintings, collages, and prints throughout his career, was initiated by a poem
by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.
In 1944 Motherwell had his first solo show in New York, at Art of This Century. Around
the same time he began editing and publishing on a regular basis including the
“Documents of Modern Art” series and the short lived “possibilities”. As an active writer
and editor, Motherwell played a major role in the intellectual and artistic development of
the avant-garde New York art world.
In 1946, he began to associate with Herbert Ferber, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko,
and spent his first summer in East Hampton, Long Island. That year, Motherwell was
given solo exhibitions at the Arts Club of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Art,
and he participated in the historic exhibition Fourteen Americans at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York.
During the 1950s, Motherwell enjoyed a great expansion of his creative efforts. In 1957
Motherwell divorced Betty Little, and within a year he had married the artist Helen
Frankenthaler. In 1958 he and Frankenthaler journeyed to Spain where Motherwell
continued to paint works in his Elegies series and began to devote attention to the Iberia
series. From 1950-59 he also took a teaching post at Hunter College, New York, and
subsequently taught and lectured throughout the United States.
In the 1960’s Motherwell turned to landscape of the Mediterranean, favoring powerful
blue and green chromatic accents in his series Beside the Sea (1962). He also exhibited
extensively throughout the United States and abroad. A Motherwell exhibition took
place at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, the Museum des 20 Jahrhunderts, Vienna, and the
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1976–77. He was given important solo
exhibitions at the Royal Academy, London, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington,
D.C. in 1978. A retrospective of his work was organized by the Albright-Knox Art
Gallery, Buffalo, New York and traveled in the United States from 1983 to 1985. From
1971, the artist lived and worked in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Throughout his career, Motherwell worked within a broad palette of expressive
possibilities using vivid colors to create compositions both distinctive and highly
personal. He continued to paint and write until his death in 1991. Motherwell’s work is
represented in numerous important collections worldwide.
1) Peter Schjeldahl, “Fragment of an Awesome Whole,” The New York Times, January
2) Robert Motherwell, quoted in Grace Glueck, “The Creative Mind: The Mastery of
Robert Motherwell,” The New York Times, December 2, 1984.
3) Katy Rogers, “Collages: 1958-70: Intersections,” in Jack Flam, et.al., Robert
Motherwell: Paintings and Collages, A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941-1991. Vol. 1: Essays
and References. (New Haven: Yale, 2012), 112.
4) Ibid., 119
5) Dore Ashton, “Introduction,” in H.H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, 2nd Edition
(New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1982), 10-11
6) Arnason, 18-19
Post War Inventory