Robert Motherwell

Open No. 121 (Bolton Landing Elegy)


Not on display

Robert Motherwell 1915–1991
Acrylic paint and charcoal on canvas
Support: 2438 × 4420 mm
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1970

Catalogue entry

Robert Motherwell born 1915 [- 1991]

T01194 Open No. 121 (Bolton Landing Elegy) 1969

Inscribed 'RM' br. and '"OPEN, #121 | (BOLTON LANDING ELEGY)" | Robert Motherwell | 1969' on back of canvas
Liquitex brand acrylic on sized canvas, 96 x 174 (244 x 432)
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1969
Exh: L'Art Vivant aux Etats-Unis, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul, July-September 1970 (works not numbered, repr.)
Lit: H.H. Arnason, 'Motherwell: the Window and the Wall' in Art News, LXVIII, Summer 1969, p.48; H.H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell (New York 1977), pp.71-2

H.H. Arnason has described how the 'Open' series originated in a sort of accident early in 1967 when Motherwell happened to lean a small canvas from the 'Summertime in Italy' series against a large vertical canvas on which he was still working, which had its entire surface painted ochre. Finding that he liked the relationship of the small to the large rectangle, he outlined the small painting in charcoal on the ochre ground and thereby created an effect suggesting an opening or door at the bottom. He originally intended to add some free figuration either within the 'door' or around it, but decided in the end to leave it as it was apart from reversing the canvas, so that the small rectangle now appeared to be descending from the top. This picture became the first of the 'Open' series, though the title was not arrived at until a number of versions had been painted. The choice of this word was probably derived from the idea of a window in a large wall (though Motherwell did not want any implication that it was a window opening from interior to exterior space), but it also appealed to him because of its various associations, especially those of openness and simplicity. The title also incorporates a number indicating the order of the painting, and in most cases a description of the colours used. (Many of the paintings have the enclosed rectangle painted a contrasting colour).

Bolton Landing was the home of his great friend the sculptor David Smith, who died in a lorry accident in 1966, and Motherwell even thought at one time of calling this picture 'Elegy for David Smith'. He writes (2 October 1970) that David Smith was his closest complete friend, that is he had a wider range of interests in common than any other artist he had known, and a very similar, independently arrived at, aesthetic. He first met him in 1950 when he wrote a catalogue preface at his request for an exhibition of his, and they became very close friends from 1958 until his death. He made a picture for him after his death called 'The Forge', but was not satisfied with it. 'Open No.121 (Bolton Landing Elegy)' struck him as what he really meant, but the title was not given until afterwards. 'Commissions, even self-commissions, work less well than working directly and then discovering what one associates the work with.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.546-7, reproduced p.546

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