Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
The Collection of Jenny and Clement Greenberg
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

Provincetown Harbor

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
Provincetown Harbor
signed and dated 'Helen Frankenthaler '50' (lower left)
gouache and oil on paper
24 3/4 x 19 1/4 in. (62.9 x 48.9 cm.)
Painted in 1950.
Jenny and Clement Greenberg, New York, acquired directly from the artist
By descent from the above to the present owner
J. Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, p. 31 (illustrated).
Waltham, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum, Frankenthaler: The 1950s, May-June 1981, p. 18, no. 3.
New York, Holly Solomon Gallery, The Innovative Landscape: New Approaches to an Old Tradition, May-June 1984.
New Britain Museum of American Art, The Tides of Provincetown: Pivotal Years in America's Oldest Continuous Art Colony 1899-2011, July-October 2011.
Please note that this lot has been requested for the following exhibition: Provincetown Art Association and Museum, July-October 2018; Parrish Art Museum, October 2018 – January 2019.


Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak


Created just one year before the artist’s first solo exhibition which introduced her as a key figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, Helen Frankenthaler’s Provincetown Harbor is a glimpse into the early stages and the development of her artistic legacy. The importance of this work to the artist and her career is demonstrated by the fact that the painting remained in the artist’s personal collection for many years before she gifted it to Jenny and Clement Greenberg, and she would continue to borrow it for exhibitions and periods of personal keeping throughout the years.

During the time Provincetown Harbor was executed, the artist was studying under Hans Hofmann, a figure who would remain an influential mentor throughout her career. Here, Provincetown Harbor shows many stylistic clues of what was to come as the reserved neutral grey color palette with the occasional pops of highly saturated color displays signs of the fluid composition that would distinguish her later paintings. The exposed portions of the paper support would develop into the areas of raw, exposed canvas that became an important part of her work. From the start, Frankenthaler used her painting surface as a material and integral part of the work and here in Provincetown Harbor the white of the untouched paper is as intentional and as dominant as the brushed on color. Although Frankenthaler later transitioned to using acrylic and oil paint, this aqueous quality always remained in her work.

Art critic Barbara Rose best described Frankenthaler’s relationship to her own work in a 1978 essay. “In her life as in her art, Frankenthaler has said that she is interested primarily in growth and development. Throughout her career, she has been faithful to these principles. As one traces the course of her work, one sees a steady maturation and an unwillingness to rest with any solution—no matter how successful. Coupled with this resistance to the facile is an iron-willed determination to face and confront the issues of the moment. Courage and staying power are rare in any age. In our own, Frankenthaler's combination of these qualities is an incalculable asset not only to American art but to the future of painting in general. Her paintings are not merely beautiful. They are statements of great intensity and significance about what it is to stay alive, to face crisis and survive, to accept maturity with grace and even joy" (B. Rose, Frankenthaler, New York, 1972, pp. 105-6).

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