Experiments with Landscape: Early Work

Helen Frankenthaler
American, 1928–2011
Oil on unsized, unprimed canvas, 94 x 83 1/2 in. 
Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
© 2017 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. 
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frankenthaler studied painting at the Dalton School and Bennington College, and briefly with the painter Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. From her student years onward, she occasionally sketched outdoors, working directly from the landscape. She was also a great student of the history of art, frequently quoting historical paintings or traditional artistic genres, including still life, portraiture, the nude, and landscape painting.

As a young artist during the 1950s and ’60s, Frankenthaler explored various styles of abstraction, from cubist-inspired works to more free-form compositions. During these years, she also developed her influential “soak-stain” technique, in which she used thinned paint that soaked into unprimed canvas. This approach allowed her to layer washes of paint on top of one another, creating unusual combinations of colors and forms and blurring the traditional distinction between figure and ground, in which the figure is most prominent and the ground plays a secondary role.