Robert Motherwell In Black and White Dated 1960 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc. VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2023


Born 1915
Died 1991
Nationality American
Birth place Aberdeen
Death place Cod

Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen in Washington State and raised in San Francisco. In 1932 he began studying art at Stanford University, California, but finding the department uninspiring he changed course to major in philosophy. Motherwell later studied art history in New York from 1940, where he became friends with some of the Surrealist artists who had left Europe due to the war, including Duchamp, Ernst, Matta and Breton. Like Jackson Pollock, Motherwell was encouraged to experiment with automatism by his contact with the Surrealists. Although best known for his large abstract paintings which were often painted in series, including ‘Elegy to the Spanish Republic’ and ‘Open’, Motherwell also made collages.

Glossary terms

Glossary terms


A painting, drawing or writing process that aims to suppress rational thought, allowing the subconscious to take control. This spontaneous approach is associated with Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.