Before the Day

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

Before the Day


Robert Motherwell

American, 1915-1991

Since the Renaissance, Western painting had been understood as a window onto the world, and Motherwell’s composition—part of his Open series—creates the suggestion of a window within a window. A few weeks earlier, the artist had completed a painting titled In Plato’s Cave No. 1, where the suggestion of inside and outside, what is real and what illusion, draws on the Greek philosopher’s famous allegory. The Langs saw Motherwell at work on this painting when they visited his studio in 1972 and decided to acquire the work. Completed a day before the birthday of Jane Lang’s son, the artist decided to give the work the evocative title Before the Day.
Charcoal and acrylic on canvas
72 1/2 x 96 5/8 in. (184.1 x 245.3 cm)
Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis
Provenance: The artist; purchased, via [Lawrence Rubin Gallery, New York], by Jane and Richard E. Lang, Seattle, Washington, 1972; Friday Foundation, Seattle, Washington, 2018; to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 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.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection, Oct. 15, 2021 - Nov. 27, 2022. Text by Jack Flam. No cat. no., pp. 15, 44, 164-169, 190, reproduced pp. 10, 165 (pl. 18), 182.

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