Rebecca Michelman reveals a brilliant abstract expressionist painting by Robert Motherwell

Rebecca Michelman of New York art dealership Michelman Fine Art reveals a brilliant abstract expressionist painting by revolutionary modern artist Robert Motherwell.

Bold, distinctive strokes of ivory, beige and maroon frame a brazen and vivacious starburst motif in sunshine yellow. As one considers the amalgamation of these charismatic elements, a light and spirited sense of joie de vivre takes over.

This is Untitled (Figure in Doorway), a painting by renowned American abstract expressionist artist Robert Motherwell, who was part of the famed New York School collective of avant-garde creatives in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Representing this rare painting is Rebecca Michelman of Michelman Fine Art, a New York-based private art dealer who has the work from a collector.

“Although Motherwell’s initial recognition came from his series called The Elegies—which utilised an austere palette of black and white and conveyed an unabashed honesty, brutality and elegance—he ultimately was a brilliant colourist. This painting, which we are offering for sale, was created during a powerful moment of introspection and reappraisal over the course of several months between 1982 and 1983,” she says.

Michelman adds that Untitled (Figure in Doorway) is an uncommon example of his work as it is a reprise of Mural Study, a small painting he created in 1950, which he displayed in his studio in the months leading up to his 1983 retrospective exhibition at the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, New York.

At least two other paintings from the '50s that feature the same starburst motif are in museum collections, notably the Smithsonian and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard. The motif undoubtedly derives from what Motherwell called l'art moderne, meaning the art of French Modernists such as Henri Matisse and Joan Miró; Motherwell experienced their work firsthand while living in Paris in the 1930s.

She reveals: “Clearly the subject of this painting (Mural Study) was significant to him and represents an important synthesis of his creative concerns—the tension between the abstract and the figurative. Here, it is rendered with a touch of whimsy and joy. By revisiting one of his earliest smaller paintings, Motherwell was reviewing and yet reinventing in the final decade of his life.”

She shares: “I grew up with an art dealer mother who is as passionate about art as the art of the deal. For me, the exciting part of the business is the discovery and research of great works. When I am invited to speak to groups of new collectors, I emphasise the importance of developing a curatorial eye through the study of art history.”

Michelman is particularly excited by this latest Motherwell acquisition, which she says is an homage to contemporaries Joan Miró and Henri Matisse, both of whom were held in great esteem by the artist.

Motherwell was one of the leading proponents of Abstract Expressionism in New York in the early 1940s. He developed a universal visual language that he achieved partly by using automatic drawing, or "automatism," which he learned from the Surrealist Robert Matta. Automatism allowed the unconscious mind to influence the creative process of art-making and was popular with the Surrealists in the 1930s. Motherwell adopted the technique, and spread its message to artists like Pollock, de Kooning and Hofmann. It remains among the most compelling components of his early work.

While the work of Motherwell offers one plenty of room for interpretation, for admirers like Michelman, his intent is clear. “Painting was a way of giving form to the deepest questions of existence. Throughout his career, he developed a profound pictorial language, using simplied geometric forms that were animated by the emotional gravitas of his chosen palette and the expressive force of his brush,” she says.

To enquire about Untitled (Figure in Doorway) by Robert Motherwell, please contact Rebecca Michelman at