Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS , Case R, Shelf 106, Box L

Abstract Composition

Oil Painting
ca. 1964 (painted)
Place of origin

Oil wash painting titled 'Abstract composition', signed 'Frankenthaler.'

Object details

Object type
TitleAbstract Composition (assigned by artist)
Materials and techniques
Oil wash on paper
Brief description
Oil painting entitled 'Abstract Composition' by Helen Frankenthaler (b.1928). American School, ca. 1964.
Physical description
Oil wash painting titled 'Abstract composition', signed 'Frankenthaler.'
  • Approx. height: 23.75in
  • Approx. width: 18in
Dimensions taken from departmental object file
Marks and inscriptions
'Frankenthaler' (Signed by the artist)
Object history
Purchased, 1964

Historical significance: Helen Frankenthaler (b.1928) is an American painter and printmaker whose work is associated with Abstract Expressionism. Like Jackson Pollock, she experimented with methods of painting on unprimed canvases. She often worked with thin pigments, which she allowed to soak directly into the canvas, thus exploring the interface between image and surface.

Frankenthaler's work often investigates ideas of depth and perspective. In this work of around 1964 the green passages seem to form a border, within which the viewer sees an area of pale pink wash with darker abstract marks in its centre. However, even as we seem to be invited to look 'into' the painting through this portal, our attempt to do this is thwarted by the bold, painterly brush strokes which articulate and draw attention to its surface qualities.

Although it has been the museum's policy since the foundation of the Tate Gallery to restrict its acquisition of oil paintings to those with direct bearing on the decorative or applied arts, this painting seems to have been acquired as a wash drawing. In the annual accessions report for 1964, Graham Reynolds, Keeper of Prints & Drawings and Paintings, described this acquisition as follows: 'Of recent years it has been the policy of the Department of Paintings to acquire a small but carefully selected number of modern foreign watercolours or cognate drawings. These are hung in rotation with the modern British watercolours […] and this juxtaposition helps to put the development and achievement of the national school in its proper perspective. The most important purchases made during 1964 by the Department were of this nature. […] A more recent phase of American art, generally labelled Abstract Expressionism, is seen in Helen Frankenthaler's composition in oil wash.' (Graham Reynolds, Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings: Accessions 1964, p. iii.)
Subject depicted
Bibliographic reference
Victoria & Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1964. London: HMSO, 1965.
Accession number

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest feedback

Record createdMay 9, 2007
Record URL
Download as: JSON