Robert Motherwell

Open No. 122 in Scarlet and Blue


Not on display

Robert Motherwell 1915–1991
Acrylic paint and charcoal on canvas
Support: 2134 × 2540 mm
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1970

Display caption

This painting belongs to the 'Open' series which Motherwell commenced in 1967. The inspiration for the series came about accidentally. While working in his studio Motherwell was struck by the shapes resulting from the back of a small painting leaning against the painted surface of a larger one. By outlining the smaller painting in charcoal he was able to suggest an opening at the bottom of the canvas. He inverted subsequent compositions so that a painted rectangle appeared at the top. For Motherwell, 'abstract art is a form of mysticism'. Thus his colours are associated with particular emotions and the rectangular form suggests a gateway or enclosure within a metaphysical space.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Robert Motherwell born 1915 [- 1991]

T01180 Open No. 122 (in Scarlet and Blue) 1969

Inscribed 'OPEN #122, IN SCARLET + BLUE | 84 x 100" 1969 R. Motherwell' on stretcher
Polymer paint and charcoal on canvas, 84 x 100 (213.5 x 254)
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1969

The artist described this work (in his letter of 2 October 1970) as 'one of my favorites, but equally extreme in another direction, i.e. the center tone of the series is missing in your two examples'. Then a few days later he added (15 October 1970): 'The frames ought to be "floating", i.e. with a small empty space, an inch or less, between the edge of the canvas and the frame itself. It is also very important that the pictures be "underlit", i.e. if you can look at the works with a rheostat, you will see that bright light makes them look like objects (like a package of cigarettes), but that as light is reduced, there is a moment when they become objectless and mysterious, and it is that degree of light that is proper (if feasible). In short, they are not hard-edge paintings, but romantic ones - essences.'

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, p.547, reproduced p.547

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