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

The Homely Protestant

Robert Motherwell (American, Aberdeen, Washington 1915–1991 Provincetown, Massachusetts)
Oil and tempera on composition board
97 3/4 x 48 1/4in. (248.3 x 122.6cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of the artist, 1987
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 920
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.'"
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): 48/ Motherwell; titled and dated (verso): THE HOMELY/PROTESTANT/ FEBRUARY 48/MAY 1948
the artist, New York (1948–87; his gift to MMA)

New York. Kootz Gallery. "Robert Motherwell: Paintings, Drawings, and Collages," April 1–19, 1952, not in catalogue.

Cincinnati Art Museum. "Purchase Exhibition," April 29–May 26, 1952, no. 23 (lent by Kootz Gallery, New York).

Arts Club of Chicago. "Exhibition: Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Hans Hofmann," January 14–February 4, 1953, no. 13.

Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. "Four Abstract Expressionists," February 15–March 15, 1953, unnum. brochure.

Salt Lake City. University of Utah Department of Art. "Nine American Painters: The Fourth Annual Invitational Exhibition of the University of Utah Department of Art," March 2–23, 1958, unnumbered cat. (as "Homely Protestant," lent by the Sidney Janis Gallery).

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "New York and Paris Painting in the Fifties," January 16–February 8, 1959, unnumbered cat. (lent by Sidney Janis Gallery, N.Y.C.).

New Gallery, Bennington College. "Robert Motherwell: First Retrospective Exhibition," April 24–May 23, 1959, no. 11.

Kassel. Museum Fridericianum. "Documenta II," July 11–October 11, 1959, no. 1 (lent by Sidney Janis Gallery, New York).

Cleveland Museum of Art. "Paths of Abstract Art," October 5–November 13, 1960, no. 54 (lent by Robert Motherwell).

Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo. "VI Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo," September 10–December 3, 1961, no. 6 (as "O protestante feios. The Homely Protestant," lent by the artist).

Pasadena Art Museum. "Robert Motherwell: A Retrospective Exhibition," February 18–March 11, 1962, no. 10 (lent by the artist).

Northampton, Mass. Smith College Museum of Art. "An Exhibition of the Work of Robert Motherwell," January 10–28, 1963, no. 3 (lent by the artist).

Cambridge. New Gallery, Charles Hayden Memorial Library, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Robert Motherwell," February [11]–March 3, 1963, no catalogue.

Philadelphia. Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. "The Decisive Years, 1943–1953," January 14–March 1, 1965, unnumbered cat. (lent by the artist).

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Robert Motherwell," October 1–November 28, 1965, no. 20 (lent by the artist).

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. "Robert Motherwell," January 7–February 27, 1966, no. 19 (lent by the artist).

London. Whitechapel Gallery. "Robert Motherwell," March 17–April 17, 1966, no catalogue.

Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. "Robert Motherwell," May 5–June 5, 1966, no catalogue.

Essen. Museum Folkwang. "Robert Motherwell: Gemälde, Collagen, Zeichnungen," July 2–August 14, 1966, no. 19 (lent by the artist).

Turin. Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna. "Robert Motherwell," September 27–October 30, 1966, no. 19 (lent by the artist).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970," October 18, 1969–February 1, 1970, no. 255 (as "Homely Protestant," lent by Helen Frankenthaler, New York).

Art Museum, Princeton University. "Robert Motherwell: Recent Work," January 5–February 17, 1973, no. 18 (lent by the artist).

Albany. New York State Museum. "New York: The State of Art," October 8–November 27, 1977, extended to January 15, 1978, no. 538.3 (lent by the artist).

Cleveland Museum of Art. "The Spirit of Surrealism," October 3–November 25, 1979, no. 92 (lent by a private collection, Connecticut).

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Robert Motherwell," January 5–March 4, 1984, no. 16.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Robert Motherwell," April 12–June 3, 1984, no. 16.

Seattle Art Museum. "Robert Motherwell," June 21–August 5, 1984, no. 16.

Washington, D.C. Corcoran Gallery of Art. "Robert Motherwell," September 15–November 4, 1984, no. 16.

New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Robert Motherwell," December 7, 1984–February 3, 1985, no catalogue.

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. "Revolt in Boston: Fear vs. Freedom," February 18–April 20, 1986, not in catalogue.

East Hampton. Guild Hall. "Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944-1952," August 9–October 13, 2014, no. 5.

William C. Seitz. "Abstract–Expressionist Painting in America: An Interpretation Based on the Work and Thought of Six Key Figures." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1955, p. 65.

E. C. Goossen. "Robert Motherwell and the Seriousness of Subject." Art International 3, nos. 1–2 (1959), p. 34.

Edward B. Henning. Paths of Abstract Art. Exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1960, pp. 36–37, no. 54, ill.

Robert Motherwell. An Exhibition of the Work of Robert Motherwell. Exh. cat., Smith College Museum of Art. Northampton, Mass., 1963, unpaginated, no. 3, ill., describes the origins of this work's title.

Frieda Grayzel in Within the Easel Convention: Sources of Abstract–Expressionism. Exh. cat., Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums. Cambridge, 1964, p. 35.

Lucy R. Lippard. "New York Letter: Miro and Motherwell." Art International 9 (December 20, 1965), pp. 33–34, calls it "Homely Protestant"; notes Miro's strong influence in this painting.

William Berkson. "In the Museums: Recent Exhibitions." Arts Magazine 40 (December 1965), p. 42.

Jürgen Claus. "Robert Motherwell–Grundtypen Seines Werkes." Das Kunstwerk 8 (February 1965), p. 3, calls it "Homely Protestant".

Kynaston McShine in Frank O'Hara. Robert Motherwell. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York, 1965, pp. 77, 94, no. 20, ill. p. 19.

Andrew Hudson. "Hanging Dims Motherwell Show." Washington Post (October 10, 1965), p. G7.

H. H. Arnason. "On Robert Motherwell and His Early Work." Art International 10 (January 20, 1966), p. 35, fig. 18.

H. H. Arnason. "Robert Motherwell: The Years 1948 to 1965." Art International 10 (April 20, 1966), pp. 19, 27, 38–39, 45.

Bryan Robertson. "From a Notebook on Robert Motherwell." Studio International 171 (March 1966), p. 90, calls it "Homely Protestant".

Luigi Mallé. Robert Motherwell. Exh. cat., Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna. Turin, 1966, pp. 11, 16, no. 19, colorpl. 17.

Agnes Murphy. "At Home With Helen Frankenthaler." New York Post (November 11, 1967), p. 47.

H. H. Arnason. "Motherwell: The Window and the Wall." Art News 68 (Summer 1969), p. 64, suggests that this painting was inspired by Picasso's "The Studio" (1928, Guggenheim Museum, New York) which the artist had seen in Peggy Guggenheim's collection.

Barbara Rose. "Art: Opennes and Robert Motherwell, 'An Infallible Eye'." Vogue 154 (August 1, 1969), p. 62, states that the artist's later "Open" paintings are clearly related to this early work.

Rosalind Krauss. "Robert Motherwell's New Paintings." Artforum 7 (May 1969), p. 27.

"'It's All a Question of Light and Air and Whiteness' Say the Robert Motherwells of the Two Houses They Have Created Together." House & Garden 136 (July 1969), p. 49, ill. pp. 48, 51 (color, installation photos).

Harry B. Titus in Robert Motherwell: Recent Work. Exh. cat., Art Museum, Princeton University. Princeton, 1973, p. 26.

Deborah P. Strom in Robert Motherwell: Recent Work. Exh. cat., Art Museum, Princeton University. Princeton, 1973, pp. 50, 72, no. 18, ill. p. 51.

Miriam Friend. "Art Museum: Major Motherwell Show Opening." Princeton Packet (January 3, 1973), p. 19.

Robert C. Hobbs. "Motherwell's Concern with Death in Painting: An Investigation of His Elegies to the Spanish Republic, Including an Examination of His Philosophical and Methodological Considerations." PhD diss., University of North Carolina, 1975, pp. 20, 172, 233.

H. H. Arnason. "Robert Motherwell: 1966–1976." Art International 20 (October–November 1976), pp. 55–56.

Robert C. Hobbs in Robert Motherwell. Exh. cat., Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf, 1976, pp. 35–37, 45–47.

Betty Tyler. "Greenwich Influece on Motherwell Shows in Definitive Book on His Art." Bridgeport Post (August 14, 1977), p. F–7.

France Huser. "Bleu d'outre–mer." Le nouvel observateur no. 661 (July 11–17, 1977), p. 55, calls it "Le simple protestant".

H. H. Arnason. Robert Motherwell. New York, 1977, pp. 25, 30, 37, 58, 88, colorpl. 70, lists it as on extended loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Robert Hughes. "Paris' Prodigal Son Returns." Time 110 (July 18, 1977), p. 50, calls it "Homely Protestant" and dates it 1947–48.

John Murray Cuddihy. No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. New York, 1978, p. 192, ill. on cover (color), calls it "Homely Protestant".

Tim Hilton. "Searching for the Sublime." Times Literary Supplement (January 20, 1978), p. 63.

Terence Maloon. "Robert Motherwell Interviewed by Terence Maloon." Artscribe no. 11 (April 1978), p. 17, ill.

Edward B. Henning. The Spirit of Surrealism. Exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1979, pp. 152, 175, no. 92, ill., colorpl. 32.

Dore Ashton. "Robert Motherwell." Flash Art no. 100 (November 1980), p. 8.

Janet Tracy Anderson. "Eluding the A Priori: A Hermeneutic of Process Based Upon Robert Motherwell's Superordinant Concepts on the Making of Art, a Thesis in Art Education." PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1981, pp. 110, 132, 158, 217, 222.

H. H. Arnason. Robert Motherwell. 2nd rev. ed. (1st ed., 1977). New York, 1982, pp. 25, 30, 37, 58, 92, colorpl. 122.

Evan R. Firestone. "James Joyce and the First Generation New York School." Arts Magazine 56 (June 1982), p. 116.

Dore Ashton in H. H. Arnason. Robert Motherwell. 2nd rev. ed. (1st ed., 1977). New York, 1982, p. 13.

Robert Motherwell in H. H. Arnason. Robert Motherwell. 2nd rev. ed. (1st ed., 1977). New York, 1982, pp. 111, 196.

Robert S. Mattison. "The Emperor of China: Symbols of Power and Vulnerability in the Art of Robert Motherwell During the 1940's." Art International 25 (November–December 1982), pp. 9, 11, 13, ill., states that the artist believes this painting to be among his most important early works.

William C. Seitz. Abstract Expressionist Painting in America. Cambridge, Mass., 1983, p. 23, fig. 175.

Dore Ashton in Robert Motherwell. Exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. New York, [1983], pp. 34, 125, no. 16, ill. p. 32 (color).

Jack D. Flam in Robert Motherwell. Exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. New York, [1983], p. 13.

Emile de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman. Painters Painting: A Candid History of the Modern Art Scene, 1940–1970. New York, 1984, p. 63.

Kate Regan. "Messages From Motherwell." San Francisco Chronicle (April 29, 1984), p. 12.

Lynne Cooke. "New York: Contemporary American Exhibitions." Burlington Magazine 127 (March 1985), p. 193.

Harry F. Gaugh. "Elegy for an Exhibition." Art News 85 (March 1985), p. 73.

Roger Kimball. "The Motherwell Retrospective." New Criterion 3 (March 1985), pp. 32, 40.

Robert S. Mattison. "A Voyage: Robert Motherwell's Earliest Works." Arts Magazine 59 (February 1985), p. 92.

Robert Saltonstall Mattison. "The Art of Robert Motherwell During the 1940s." PhD diss., Princeton University, June 1985, pp. 163–64, 177, 182, 192, 195, 200–1, 214–18, 224, 227, 250, fig. 200.

Gayle Hemenway. "Robert Motherwell: A Celebration." Stanford Magazine 14 (Summer 1986), p. 43.

Lisa M. Messinger in Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1986–1987. New York, 1987, p. 70, ill.

Robert Saltonstall Mattison. Robert Motherwell: The Formative Years. Ann Arbor, 1987, pp. 146–47, 159, 165–66, 175, 181–84, 196, 219, fig. 75, suggests that this painting and "Emperor of China" (1947, private collection) are pendants.

Anna C. Chave. Mark Rothko: Subjects in Abstraction. New Haven, 1989, p. 209 n. 88, calls it "Homely Protestant".

Robert Motherwell. "An Artist's Odyssey." Art & Antiques 6 (February 1989), p. 74.

Robert S. Mattison. "Robert Motherwell's First Collages: 'All My Life I Have Been Obsessed with Death'." Studies in Iconography. Ed. Anne Farnsworth Gully and Ariel Carroll Presta. Vol. 12, [Phoenix], 1989, p. 176.

Marcelin Pleynet. Robert Motherwell. Paris, 1989, pp. 30–32, 77, ill. p. 78 (color).

Stephen Polcari. Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience. Cambridge, 1991, pp. 306, 308, fig. 240, compares the figure in this painting to stick figures in works by Picasso, Brancusi, and Brassai.

Jack Flam. Motherwell. New York, 1991, pp. 10, 20, fig. 18 (color).

Marcelin Pleynet. "Art and Literature: Robert Motherwell's 'Riverrun'." Interpreting Contemporary Art. Ed. Stephen Bann and William Allen. New York, 1991, pp. 15, 21, 23, ill. p. 16, dates it 1947–48.

Stephanie Terenzio, ed. The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell. New York, 1992, p. 51.

Thomas McEvilley. The Exile's Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post–Modern Era. Cambridge, England, 1993, pp. 26, 49, dates it 1947–48.

Daniel Mark Belgrad. "The Social Meanings of Spontaneity in American Arts and Literature, 1940–1960." PhD diss., Yale University, 1994, p. 137.

James E. B. Breslin. "Robert Motherwell: From WASPism to Modernism." Threepenny Review no. 61 (Spring 1995), pp. 24–25.

Caroline A. Jones. Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist. Chicago, 1996, pp. 283–84.

Mary Ann Caws. Robert Motherwell: What Art Holds. New York, 1996, p. 80, ill. p. 82.

Thomas McEvilley. "Seeking the Primal Through Paint: The Monochrome Icon." Capacity: History, the World, and the Self in Contemporary Art and Criticism. Amsterdam, 1996, pp. 59, 79, reprint of Ref. McEvilley 1993; dates it 1947–48.

Ann Eden Gibson. Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics. New Haven, 1997, pp. 14–15, 55, fig. 13 (color), dates it 1947 in the text.

Teresa del Conde. Tres Maestros: Reflexiones sobre Bacon, Motherwell y Tamayo. Mexico City, 1997, p. 97.

Marcelin Pleynet. "Art et Littérature: Riverrun." La Nouvelle Revue Française nos. 546–47 (July–August 1998), pp. 90, 96, 98, reprint of Ref. Pleynet 1991.

Jean-Luc Chalumeau. Motherwell: 1915–1991. Paris, 1998, p. 14, colorpl. 6.

David Cateforis. "Robert Motherwell's 'Figure Before Blackness'." Spencer Museum of Art Register 7 (July 1, 2000–June 30, 2001), pp. 8, 10, fig. 5.

Mary Ann Caws. Robert Motherwell: With Pen and Brush. London, 2003, pp. 96, 143, 157, 176, fig. 66.

Robert S. Mattison. "Robert Motherwell's 'Opens' in Context." Robert Motherwell: Open. London, 2009, p. 14.

Robert Hobbs. "Motherwell's 'Opens': Heidegger, Mallarmé, and Zen." Robert Motherwell: Open. London, 2009, pp. 59–61, ill. (color), states that this painting's monochromatic background and glyph anticipate the imagery in the artist's "Open" paintings.

Jack Flam, Katy Rogers, and Tim Clifford. Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941–1991. Vol. 2, Paintings on Canvas and Panel. New Haven, 2012, pp. 48, 50–51, no. P85, ill. (color).

Jack Flam in Jack Flam Katy Rogers and Tim Clifford. Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941–1991. Vol. 1, Essays and References. New Haven, 2012, pp. 4, 9, 12, 14, 59–60, 124, 142, 173 n. 7, fig. 42 (color), ill. p. 52 (color, detail), relates that the artist placed this picture in a category of his production described as "working in close tonality over an essentially single color field".

Phyllis Tuchman in Phyllis Tuchman. Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944-1952. Exh. cat., Guild Hall. East Hampton, 2014, pp. 29–30, 40 n. 82, no. 5, fig. 8 (color) and ill. p. 63 (color).

Catherine Craft in Phyllis Tuchman. Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944-1952. Exh. cat., Guild Hall. East Hampton, 2014, p. 49.

Tim Clifford in Phyllis Tuchman. Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944-1952. Exh. cat., Guild Hall. East Hampton, 2014, p. 115, fig. 22 (installation photo, Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, 1952).