Helen Frankenthaler American, 1928-2011


Helen Frankenthaler, an integral member of the so-called second wave of Abstract Expressionists, is lauded for her material experimentation. Across her lush canvases, she developed her signature soak-stain technique, in which she applied washes of thinned paint to unprimed canvas. This strategy created vivid, apparently flowing blocks of color and exerted a strong influence on color field painters such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.


During her lifetime, Frankenthaler showed extensively in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Paris, San Francisco, Chicago, and London, among others. Her work belongs in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tate, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In addition to her paintings, Frankenthaler also made ceramics and steel sculptures and maintained an extensive printmaking practice (via Artsy).


In Frankenthaler's monumental print Tout à Coup“the artist’s gestural handwriting is brilliantly alive, activating the vivid red and orange field as if with an electrical charge. Each stoke and shape has distinctive modifications within it, however, and their surfaces reveal the lushness and diversity aquatint etching can yield in the hands of a master. Tout à Coup is one of the prints… that was made in privacy, the artist having asked all of the workshop staff to leave her alone in the studio” (Ruth Fine, Helen Frankenthaler: Prints (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1993), p. 32).