The Golden Fleece
Date 1961-1974
Artist:Robert Motherwell, American, 1915-1991
Dimensions Overall: 68 x 204 in. (172.7 x 518.2 cm)
Medium Oil on canvas
Credit Line Bequest of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.
Description This is an oil on canvas painting. It is an abstract painting in four colors: ochre, white, pink and blue. The title refers to the adventure of Jason and the Argonauts across the sun-filled Mediterranean and Black Seas. From the left, a field of ochre is intercepted by a explosive application of the paint; the free-form takes the viewer into a white area of the canvas, which ends with another ochre field. A small section of white opens the ochre field again, and a few brushes of blue paint are added. The last section is a pink field, with two blue lines at the top.
Exhibition History"Recent Work," Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, N.Y., December 4-29, 1962. *The painting was still at work in progress at this time; the black and green sections of the painting were painted over at a later date.
"Robert Motherwell," Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., October 1 - November 27, 1983; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Calif., January 4 - March 4, 1984; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Calif., April 12 - June 3, 1984; Seattle Art Museum, Wash., June 21 - August 5, 1984; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., September 8 - October 28, 1984; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, N.Y., December 1, 1984 - February 3, 1985.
"Behind the Seen: The Chrysler's Hidden Museum," Large Changing Gallery, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va., October 21, 2005 - February 19, 2006.
Published ReferencesSidney Tillim, "Month in Review," _Arts Magazine_ 37 (January 1963): 40-42.
Thomas W. Styron, "Major Robert Motherwell Painting on Loan," _Chrysler Museum at Norfolk Bulletin_ 7 (May 1978): not paged.
H. H. Arnason, _Robert Motherwell_ (New York: Abrams, rev. ed. 1982), 11, 61, 62, 64, 66, 70, 144-145. ISBN: 081091333X
Douglas G. Schultz, Dore Ashton, and Jack D. Flam, _Robert Motherwell_, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., 1983, 38-39. ISBN: 0896593878
Harry F. Gaugh, "Elegy for an Exhibition," _ARTnews_ 85 (March 1985): 71-75.
Nathan Goldstein, _Design and Composition_ (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989), 221, fig. 10.45. ISBN: 0131999109
Marcelin Pleynet, _Robert Motherwell_, trans. Mary Ann Caws, (Paris: Daniel Papierski, 1989), 50, 124-125. ISBN: 9993117404
Jack Flam, _Motherwell_ (Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Polígrafa, S.A., 1991), 127, no. 54. ISBN: 8434306506
Miriam Seidel, "Wild Gentleman," _Applause_ 17 (August 1991): 13-15.
Mary Ann Caws, _Robert Motherwell: What Art Holds_ (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 59, 60. ISBN: 0231096445
Martha N. Hagood and Jefferson C. Harrison, _American Art at the Chrysler Museum: Selected Paintings, Sculpture, and Drawings_ (Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum of Art, 2005), 228-229, no. 140. ISBN: 0-940744-71-6
Jeff Harrison, _Collecting with Vision: Treasures From the Chrysler Museum of Art_ (London: D. Giles Ltd., 2007), 80, fig. 92. ISBN: 978-0-940744-72-1
Inscriptions Signed and dated upper left: Motherwell 61
Provenance Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., New York; Bequest of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. to The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va., 1989.
Current Location Chrysler Museum of Art, 256, open
Catalog Entry Robert Motherwell Aberdeen, Wash. 1915-1991 Provincetown, Mass. The Golden Fleece, 1961-ca. 1974 Oil on canvas, 68 × 204 in. (172.7 × 518.2 cm) Signed and dated upper left: Motherwell 61 Bequest of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., 89.49 Reproduction © Dedalus Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y. References: H.H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1982, pp. 11, 61ff, 144-45; Douglas G. Schultz, Dore Ashton, and Jack D. Flam, Robert Motherwell, exhib. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo et al., 1983-85, pp. 38-39. Robert Motherwell has been described as the most learned of the Abstract Expressionists and the member of the group most closely allied to the classical legacy of Mediterranean Europe. Motherwell devoted his college and early postgraduate years to an intensive study of the liberal arts, pursuing literature, psychology, and philosophy at Stanford and Harvard Universities. He emerged from this period with a deep appreciation for the psychoanalytical theory of Sigmund Freud and the Symbolist poetry of Charles Baudelaire, sensing in both a subjective, liberating approach to image and idea that would help shape his future development as an abstract painter. Motherwell's interest in art as a possible profession emerged during his student years at Stanford, when in 1932 he saw paintings by Henri Matisse in the Palo Alto collection of Michael Stein, a brother of Gertrude Stein. The resulting "shock of recognition" only deepened on his 1938 visit to Paris, where he studied modern French painting and resolved to become an artist. But to please his father, a practical-minded banker who cautioned him to have a backup career, Motherwell went to New York in 1940 to study art history at Columbia University. Through his teacher Meyer Schapiro he became associated with Roberto Matta and other European Surrealist artists exiled in New York because of World War II. As had Freudian psychoanalysis and Symbolist poetry, the Surrealist concept of psychic automatism-a spontaneous approach to artistic creativity unfettered by the conscious mind-only hastened Motherwell's move toward abstraction (see object 83.592), and by the mid-1940s he had joined William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, and other avant-garde artists at the center of the emerging New York School. In 1949, after devoting part of his early career to pen-and-ink drawings and torn-paper collages, Motherwell embarked on a major series of abstract paintings featuring black oval shapes confined by vertical bars and superimposed against a white ground. Known collectively as Elegies to the Spanish Republic, the series eventually encompassed more than 140 large canvases and came to be recognized as one of the major achievements of the Abstract Expressionist movement. In 1961-62 Motherwell temporarily set aside the somber mood and stark, black-white structures of the Elegies to undertake a group of three monumental canvases suffused with joyful, luminous color. In these paintings-The Voyage Ten Years After (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain), The Golden Fleece, and Chi Ama, Crede (Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.) -he built upon the imagery, blond palette, and epic theme of his 1949 canvas, The Voyage. As the artist himself noted, the title of that work alludes "to the sense . . . of voyaging on unknown seas . . . and refers to Baudelaire's famous poem The Voyage," which defines the creative act as a heroic journey into the unknown and toward the new. The idea of the epic journey-the courageous quest for a mythic prize-is embedded in the very title of the Chrysler canvas, The Golden Fleece, which alludes to the great adventure of Jason and the Argonauts across the sun-filled Mediterranean and Black Seas. The painting's sweeping, panoramic format and mural scale-it measures nearly seventeen feet across-inevitably draw the eye into "a scanning procedure that is almost equal to undertaking a voyage" (Dore Ashton). The journey commences at left with an ochre color field and a free-floating, cloud-like form, and culminates in a burst of pink and blue at the right, as though the viewer were traversing a vast expanse of earth, sea, and sky. In an inspired instance of abstract automatism, Motherwell achieved the "spontaneous" cloud shape by allowing liquid paint to flow freely across the canvas, which had been laid out on the floor. Motherwell included The Golden Fleece, along with Chi Ama, Crede, in a December 1962 exhibition of recent work at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. As contemporary photographs and descriptions of the painting attest, The Golden Fleece was still a work in progress; it contained a large black field and a hard-edged section of green that were subsequently painted over. The picture was singled out for special praise at the time of the exhibition; writing in Arts Magazine, critic Sidney Tillim called it "by far the most significant painting in the show." It has since been recognized as a pivotal mid-career work, marking Motherwell's "transition from the black-white muscularity of the Spanish Elegies series of the 1950s to the more gestural color-oriented works of the 1960s" (Jack Flam). JCH Martha N. Hagood and Jefferson C. Harrison, _American Art at the Chrysler Museum: Selected Paintings, Sculpture, and Drawings_ (Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum of Art, 2005), 228-229, no. 140.
Object Label Robert Motherwell American, 1915–1991 The Golden Fleece, 1961–1974 Oil on canvas This monumental canvas traces the journey of Jason and the Argonauts, a mythic band of heroes who sailed the Mediterranean searching for the gold-haired coat of a magical winged ram. Scan the painting from left to right to get a sense of their epic adventure. Moving your eyes from the ochre field to the surge of pink and blue provides the sense of crossing a vast expanse of earth, sea, and sky. The golden burst at the center, created by splashing paint onto the canvas, reminds us that every journey—artistic and heroic alike—is subject to chance. Bequest of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. 89.49
Object Number 89.49