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Helen Frankenthaler

News & Exhibitions
“A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image…one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronised with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.” — Helen Frankenthaler


Helen Frankenthaler (b. 1928 New York, NY – d. 2011 Darien, CT) was a major American painter and printmaker who played an instrumental role in the transition of Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s to the Color Field paintings of the 1960s. In addition to the large-scale soak-stain paintings for which she is known, Frankenthaler experimented with different media including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and printmaking.

Frankenthaler was born and raised in New York City. She attended the Dalton School where she studied art under Mexican muralist painter Rufino Tamayo and went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Bennington College. In 1949, following her graduation from Bennington, Frankenthaler returned to New York and studied privately with Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann, later continuing her education at the Art Students League.

In Mountains and Sea (1952), Frankenthaler established her “stain” painting technique in which she poured thinned paint onto raw, unprimed canvas laid on the floor. This allowed her to work from all sides of the canvas to create spots of translucent color. This technique would go on to define her signature style.

Frankenthaler was also significant to the mid-twentieth century “print renaissance.” In 1961, Frankenthaler began making prints with the lithographic workshop Universal Limited Art Editions, and in 1976, she expanded her printmaking to incorporate woodcuts, collaborating with publisher Ken Tyler. She painted directly onto the woodblocks and made maquettes of her works, frequently incorporating not only dozens of colors but multiple woodblocks, a process so time-consuming and complex that she generally devoted several years to one series. A skilled draughtsman and colorist, Frankenthaler’s prints and works on paper range from portraits to landscapes, large-scale to intimate.

Early in her career, Frankenthaler gained critical attention when Adolph Gottlieb selected her painting for the 1950 exhibition Fifteen Unknowns: Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery. She then had her first solo exhibition in 1951 at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York. By 1959, Frankenthaler was exhibiting internationally and in 1960, her first museum retrospective was held at the Jewish Museum in New York City.

Her work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Auckland Art Gallery, NZ; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Center for Contemporary Graphic Art and Tyler Graphics Archive Collection, JP; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young Museum, CA; Flint Institute of Arts, MI; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Israel Museum, IL; Iwaki City Art Museum, JP; Johannesburg Art Gallery, ZA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Centre Pompidou, FR; Museo de Antioquia, Medellin, CO; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, D.F., MX; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, AT; National Galleries of Scotland, UK; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, AU; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PASan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Singapore Art Museum, SG; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Tate, London, UK;  Walker Art Center, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY and the Yale University Art Gallery, CT.

Frankenthaler has been included in solo and group exhibitions at the Parrish Art Museum (2019), Princeton University Art Museum (2019), Museo di Palazzo Grimani, Venice (2019), Metropolitan Museum of Art (2018), Centre Pompidou Metz, France (2018), KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes, Bergen, Norway (2019), Provincetown Art Association and Museum (2018), The Art Institute of Chicago (2018), Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris (2018), Clark Art Institute (2017), Amon Carter Museum of American Art, TX (2017), Museum of Modern Art (2017), Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain (2017), Palm Springs Art Museum (2017), Haus Der Kunst, Munich (2017) and the Royal Academy of Arts (2017).
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