Helen Frankenthaler, color field painter, dies

Helen Frankenthaler, color field painter, dies

There was something ethereal about the best of Helen Frankenthaler’s work, perhaps because her paintings often seemed to float ecstatically just under the surface on which they were painted. She died today, at the age of 83, after a long and distinguished career and a life lived at the center of the New York social and artistic world. She was one of the best of the second generation of abstract painters in the United States, with a deeply personal vision that reconciled abstraction with the lighter, finer and more poetic emotions. Her work was profoundly untroubled, lyrical and unapologetically beautiful.


President George W. Bush poses with painter Helen Frankenthaler, from Darien, Conn., during the 2002 National Endowment for the Arts National Medal of Arts Awards ceremony at Constitution Hall in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Helen Frankenthaler’s "Off White Square.” (Helen Frankenthaler/Smithsonian American Art Museum)

As with other artists whose work seems placid on the surface, there were doubts about the depth of her achievement. But there was no doubt about the pleasure it gave. After the Sturm und Drang of the first generation of abstraction, Frankenthaler widened the range of acceptable ideas and techniques, creating space for softer, more nuanced, more reflective visions. She proved it was possible to remove ego from abstraction, without abandoning it altogether.

Read Helen Frankenthaler’s obituary.

See photos of Frankenthaler’s work.

by Philip Kennicott

There was something ethereal about the best of Helen Frankenthaler’s work, perhaps because her paintings often seemed to float ecstatically just under the surface on which they were painted. She died today, at the age of 83, after a long and distinguished career and a life lived at the center of the New York social and artistic world. She was one of the best of the second generation of abstract painters in the United States, with a deeply personal vision that reconciled abstraction with the lighter, finer and more poetic emotions. Her work was profoundly untroubled, lyrical and unapologetically beautiful.


President George W. Bush poses with painter Helen Frankenthaler, from Darien, Conn., during the 2002 National Endowment for the Arts National Medal of Arts Awards ceremony at Constitution Hall in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Helen Frankenthaler’s "Off White Square.” (Helen Frankenthaler/Smithsonian American Art Museum)

As with other artists whose work seems placid on the surface, there were doubts about the depth of her achievement. But there was no doubt about the pleasure it gave. After the Sturm und Drang of the first generation of abstraction, Frankenthaler widened the range of acceptable ideas and techniques, creating space for softer, more nuanced, more reflective visions. She proved it was possible to remove ego from abstraction, without abandoning it altogether.

Read Helen Frankenthaler’s obituary.