On the day that Robert Motherwell would be celebrating his 102nd birthday, we take a closer look at one of the more incredible undertakings within an indescribably prolific career. The Lyric Suite is a group of colored ink on rice paper works which Motherwell began in 1965. Never working in the medium before, except occasionally as collage material, Motherwell stopped by a Japanese store in April of 1965 intending to purchase a toy for one of his friend's children, but instead saw rice paper called "Dragons and Clouds" and bought one thousand sheets. He decided right then and there that he would paint these without correction, or conscious thought, in a pure experiment of automatism.
From April to May of that year, Motherwell worked on the floor of his studio applying ink in a fast and sweeping motion all while listening to a string quartet's rendition of a movement entitled Lyric Suite, composed by Alban Berg in 1925.
The Lyric Suite was hailed a Masterpiece the first time it was preformed in 1927 at the Baden-Baden Festival. But it turns out there was more to it then what Aaron Copeland said was, "one of the best works written for string quartet in years." Musicologists found that the six part movement was a story of the romantic relationship Berg had with his mistress Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, who was also married at the time. "The piece's serial structure, which had long intrigued music theorists, turned out to be based on their initials, H.F. and A.B. In German nomenclature, those letters denote the pitches B natural, F, A and B flat."
It was when Motherwell finished only a portion of this project, completing 600 separate works on rice paper, that he received a call from the artist Kenneth Noland that his best friend and fellow artist, David Smith was in a terrible automobile accident in Vermont. Motherwell hopped in his Mercedes and drove 110 miles per hour only to miss seeing his closest friend alive by fifteen minutes. After this great loss, the Lyric Suite was boxed up and forgotten about until 1986. Motherwell decided to continue the series and says that, "I half painted them and they half painted themselves."
Vallarino Fine Art is pleased to have this example from Motherwell's Lyric Suite as well as some other important works in our inventory. Please contact the gallery for pricing.
Main image: Untitled, 1986 (Lyric Suite), black and Sepia ink on rice paper, 11 x 9 inches, initialed and dated '86 at upper right, Dedalus Foundation Number D86-3458
Quotes and musical information from "ART; The Secret Love Affair Behind the 'Lyric Suite,'" New York Times, September 21, 2013, written by David Schiff that can be read here
Quotes and information on Robert Motherwell's Lyric Suite comes from his interview from 1970 with the curator of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Dennis Young, which can be listened to below.
Image right: Initial thematic statement of the tone row, mm 2-4.