helen frankenthaler mountains and sea 1952
In the summer of 1952, Frankenthaler went on a road trip to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, during which she painted landscapes there using foldable easel equipment.  Mountains and Sea was painted after this trip, and while the painting is not a direct depiction of a coastline in Nova Scotia, it contains elements that suggest a kind of seascape or landscape, like the strokes of blue that join with areas of green. 
In 1950, Frankenthaler was exposed to the work of Jackson Pollock for the first time during an exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery where several of Pollock’s paintings, Autumn Rhythm, Number 30, 1950 (1950), and Number One,1950 (Lavender Mist) (1950), were displayed. She was intrigued by the idea of painting a canvas lying flat on the floor, and would later employ that technique for Mountains and Sea. 
Helen Frankenthaler Mountains and Sea (1952), National Gallery of Art
In honor of Helen Frankenthaler, the great artist who died today at age 83, we offer these essays on her life’s work and the painting that first made her famous, Mountains and Sea (1952).
After graduating from Bennington College in Vermont, Frankenthaler made her debut in New York and was soon recognized as a talented new member of the group later known as the second-generation New York School. Forming a friendship with the influential critic Clement Greenberg, she became immersed in the downtown art community and was introduced to artists of the first-generation New York School, including Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Pollock and David Smith, among others. While many of her colleagues were following in the footsteps of Willem de Kooning, Frankenthaler broke from the group, sensing “more possibilities in the Pollock vocabulary.” “You could become a de Kooning disciple,” she believed, “but you could depart from Pollock.”
While Frankenthaler’s works from the mid-1950s are more densely painted, in 1956 her paintings opened up again, regaining the airiness characteristic of earlier years. Paintings such as Eden (1956) and Nude (1958) show Frankenthaler’s tendency to leave large portions of canvas uncovered, giving the light-filled negative spaces in her work equal pictorial weight with the painted areas, a practice adopted by Louis and Noland. By not working in series, Frankenthaler allows each painting its own identity. The diversity of her work, evident even in the brief period represented by the select group exhibited, demonstrates her experimental approach, as well as the varied experiences and impressions that influenced her paintings, ranging from personal biography to the history of art.
Woodcut composition – The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas – Collection Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. (on extended loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington
Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea, 1952, oil and charcoal on unsized, unprimed canvas, 219.4 x 297.8 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington)
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