December 12: Helen Frankenthaler
Abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler, who was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2001, was born to a wealthy German-Jewish family in Manhattan on this date in 1928. Championed early in her career by Clement Greenberg, Frankenthaler developed a staining method that involved soaking canvases in color by pouring turpentine-thinned paint onto them. This “Color Field” method, according to New York Times obituary writer Grace Glueck, “was credited with releasing color from the gestural approach and romantic rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism.” The technique began with her 1952 painting, “Mountains and Sea,” inspired by a trip to Nova Scotia. Her first major retrospective was at the Jewish Museum in 1960, and her reputation was cemented by a retrospective at the Whitney nine years later. Frankenthaler was also admired for her woodcuts. She died at 83 in 2011.
“The landscapes were in my arms as I did it.” —Helen Frankenthaler