Robert Motherwell, born in 1915, was the youngest of the hard core of the Abstract Expressionists, ten or more years junior to such colleagues as Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky, and his good friend David Smith. Only Jackson Pollock, born in 1912, was close in age (though Motherwell, who died in 1991, outlived him by nearly half a decade). There may be other Ab Ex candidates of a similar chronological distinction, especially given the present appetite for inclusivity and expanding the canon. But there is no doubt that Motherwell was the best-educated, and quite probably the best-read, of the group, having studied philosophy and nineteenth-century French art at Stanford and Harvard, and having begun yet another degree at Columbia with Meyer Schapiro. Schapiro convinced the young man to concentrate on painting instead of scholarship, but...


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