The Homely Protestant

Robert Motherwell American

Not on view

Of all the Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell was the closest to the émigré Surrealists, many of whom had sought refuge in New York at the outset of World War II. The Surrealists' practice of automatism, where spontaneous marks are used to create shapes and organize composition, had inspired Motherwell's earlier collage work. In this painting, Surrealism's influence is also made clear in Motherwell's often-repeated story about its title: "I could not find a title for possibly my single most important 'figure' painting. Then I remembered a Surrealist custom… to take a favorite book and place one's finger at random in it…" Choosing James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (1939), Motherwell found "the homely protestant" and, the Episcopalian artist continued, "I thought, 'Of course, it is a self-portrait.'"

The Homely Protestant, Robert Motherwell (American, Aberdeen, Washington 1915–1991 Provincetown, Massachusetts), Oil and tempera on composition board

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