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Helen Frankenthaler

FRANKENTHALER, HELEN (1928– ), U.S. painter and printmaker. Known as one of the most important artists of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, New York-born Helen Frankenthaler earned a B.A. from Bennington College (1946–49), after which she returned to New York City. For three weeks in the summer of 1950, she studied with the avant-garde painter and teacher Hans Hoffman in Province-town, Massachusetts. She first won public recognition after the influential art critic Clement *Greenberg selected her for a New Talent Show at the Kootz Gallery in December 1950. She had a small solo exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery the following year.

Employing thinned-down oil paint on an unprimed canvas, Mountains and Sea (1952) found Frankenthaler's signature style when she was only 23 years old after several years of experimenting with Cubist- and Surrealist-inspired imagery. Influenced by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaler eschewed the paintbrush and the easel, instead placing a canvas on the floor and pouring pigment from coffee cans on the canvas. Known as stain painting, this watercolor-like technique emphasized the flat canvas while suggesting moods that are often described as lyrical. The importance of Mountain and Sea transcends Frankenthaler's own development as the canvas is well known for influencing Morris *Louis and Kenneth Noland; after seeing the painting in 1953 both artists adopted a staining technique. Although her paintings are abstract, they often find inspiration from reality; she painted Mountains and Sea, for example, after seeing the cliffs of Nova Scotia on a trip with Greenberg.

Her first retrospective exhibition was held at the Jewish Museum in 1960. Among the paintings shown there was Jacob's Ladder (1957, Museum of Modern Art, New York), a 9½ by nearly 6-foot abstract canvas soaked with floating colors that won first prize at the First Biennale de Paris in 1959. Among other venues, retrospectives have been held at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1969) and New York's Museum of Modern Art (1989).

In addition to painting, Frankenthaler has illustrated books, welded steel sculpture and made prints. Indeed, print-making plays a significant yet underrated role in Frankenthaler's oeuvre. As innovative a printmaker as a painter, Frankenthaler made lithographs, screenprints, etchings, and woodcuts. From her first published print in 1961, a lithograph appropriately titled First Stone, Frankenthaler integrated abstraction, mostly through fluid lines rather than the rigid marks typical of printmakers, with her vital use of color to create 235 prints between 1961 and 1995.


B. Rose, Frankenthaler (1979); J. Elderfield, Frankenthaler (1989); P. Harrison, Frankenthaler: A Catalogue Raisonné, Prints 1961–1994 (1996); H. Frankenthaler, After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956–1959 (1998).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.