Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler
American, b. 1928

The American painter Helen Frankenthaler is a second-generation abstract expressionist widely considered “the country’s most prominent living female artist.” A New York City native, Frankenthaler was graduated from the Dalton School, where she studied with the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. After earning her B.A. degree at Bennington College in Vermont, she moved back to New York. In 1950 Frankenthaler encountered the influential art critic Clement Greenberg, through whom she met the major figures in New York’s avant-garde art world. Inspired by an exhibition of paintings by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaler began the experiments that culminated in her stain paintings: large-scale abstractions with thin washes of pigment, reminiscent of watercolors. This technique inspired the color field painters and earned impressive reviews for Frankenthaler from 1953 on.

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For many years Frankenthaler executed stained canvases that seem nonrepresentational, but which are actually based on real or imaginary landscapes. During the summers, she worked in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and in the mid-1970s she bought a second home and studio in Connecticut. In addition to her two-dimensional work, Frankenthaler produced welded steel sculptures; she has also explored ceramics, prints, and illustrated books, and in 1985 she designed the sets and costumes for a production by England’s Royal Ballet. She has taught at New York University, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and has had numerous one-woman exhibitions of her work, including important retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969 and New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1989. Frankenthaler has won many awards and has been the subject of a documentary film.