Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium weight linen canvas. The original stretcher was replaced just prior to its acquisition with a stronger expandable stretcher, and the edges of the canvas were strengthened with the attachment of strips of muslin fabric and a synthetic adhesive. The painting has been restretched around the new stretcher and attached with wire staples at the back. The canvas was first primed with a very thin layer of white ground, which is barely perceptible through the paint layers above and would have hardly affected the texture of the canvas weave. It is not apparent whether an unpigmented glue size was applied prior to this or not.

The oil paint was applied by brush, in three distinct applications. First a yellow ochre paint, which was thinned considerably, probably with turpentine, and has consequently stained many areas on the back of the canvas. Then an equally thin black paint, and finally with the much thicker and medium-rich black paint which is now visible over much of the surface. There are a number of splashes and drips of this black paint over the ochre, indicative of Motherwell's rather energetic application technique. In areas where the black paint was applied thickly, fairly severe drying cracks have developed but these were covered over with a thinner black paint by the artist which has partly penetrated through the cracks down to the canvas (many of these crack patterns are actually visible on the back of the canvas). In the top left corner a thickly applied area has wrinkled dramatically due to the formation of a skin on its surface before the whole layer had dried. The surface of the black paint is generally matt, but there is appreciable variation in the gloss and texture, and brushmarks are clearly visible in it. On the back of the canvas are isolated areas of a lean off-white paint, but this does not appear to bear any relationship to the painting itself and its source is not known. Also seen on the back of the canvas is the artist's signature, painted in a dilute brown paint, which reads: Robert Motherwell, 1958, St Jean de Luz, France. In fact the artist was on his honeymoon in St. Jean de Luz when he painted this piece. To the right of the signature are two further underlines in the same brown paint, but the actual inscription has been covered with thicker black paint.

The painting is now in a stable condition. The frame is a recent replacement of the original, which was lacking in rigidity and had developed a number of splits along its length. The current frame is of similar appearance to the original, but is far stronger, is able to accommodate a backing board and subsequently provides a significantly higher level of protection to the painting. The original stretcher and frame are both currently located in the Tate Gallery Archive.

Tom Learner
November 1997