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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Before the Day

Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation

Before the Day


Robert Motherwell

American, 1915-1991

Before the Day aligns with Motherwell’s series of ‘Open’ paintings first began in 1967. A departure from his preceding Elegies to the Spanish Republic, Motherwell’s ‘Open’ works explore permutations of line and color, each characterized by sparse visual elements and rectangular planes. Inspired by a chance encounter in the studio—Motherwell observed a recent painting leaning against a larger canvas in an agreeable way—the compositions create the suggestion of a window, or opening.
Charcoal and acrylic on canvas
72 1/2 × 96 5/8 in. (184.1 × 245.3 cm)
Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis
Provenance: The artist; acquired from the above, via Lawrence Rubin Gallery, New York, by Jane and Richard E. Lang, Seattle, 1972; Friday Foundation, Seattle, 2018; Seattle Art Museum, 2021
Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, Lawrence Rubin Gallery, Robert Motherwell, Oct. 21 - Nov. 8, 1972. Cat. no. 7.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, American Art: Third Quarter Century, Aug. 22 - Oct. 14, Cat. no. 43, pp. 19, 100, reproduced.

Düsseldorf, Germany, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Robert Motherwell, Sept. 3 - Oct. 10, 1976 (Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm Galleriet Kulturhuset, Nov. 12, 1976 - Jan. 9, 1977; Vienna, Austria, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Mar. 8 - Apr. 11, 1977). Cat. no. 40, reproduced p. 109.

Paris, France, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Robert Motherwell: Choix de peintures et de collages, 1941–1977, June 21 - Sept. 20, 1977. No cat. no., reproduced.

Edinburgh, Scotland, Royal Scottish Academy, Robert Motherwell: Paintings and Collages, 1941–1977, Oct. 15 - Nov. 27, 1977.

Seattle, Washington, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Art in America: Washington Collections—An American Tradition: Abstraction, Dec. 4, 1981 - Jan. 17, 1982.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Richard and Jane Lang Collection, Feb. 2 - April 1, 1984. Cat. no. 34, reproduced p. 48, reproduced.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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