Make a large color photocopy of Madridscape and
mount it on cardboard. Using a paper cutter, divide
the painting into rectangles or squares of equal
size. Ask students to reassemble the artwork as a
puzzle, being attentive to shape, color, and texture.
You might want to make several puzzles. Cut
larger squares for younger students and smaller
squares for older students.
• The paint varies in density. Some painted areas
• The weave of the cloth is clearly visible, even
through the paint.
• The paint has stained the unprimed canvas.
Moving closer to the painting, you can study
Frankenthaler’s soak-stain technique:
• Some shapes are big and bold, requiring large
sweeps of Frankenthaler’s arm; other shapes are
delicate and fragile, produced, perhaps, by a flick
of her wrist.
• The main colors (blue,
black, red, green, and
gold) are repeated
throughout the canvas.
• There are large areas of
white, unpainted canvas.
These areas don’t really
function as background
because they become
interesting shapes in their
Madridscape is a large painting, too tall to fit
into an average room with eight-foot ceilings. To
view the painting whole, you have to stand well
back from the gallery wall. Here’s what you might
notice from that distance:
About the Artwork
Make color photocopies of Madridscape and cut
each photocopy into eight vertical strips, so that
each strip has its own distinct visual character.
Give each student a strip and a blank piece of
paper. After pasting the strip somewhere on the
paper, each student should use his or her strip as a
point of departure for an entirely new painted composition. As you compare the finished products,
discuss how each student has chosen to expand on
some aspect of Frankenthaler’s imagery.
Find areas where Frankenthaler pushed her paint
around with a brush or sponge; tilted her canvas
to let the paint drip; flicked her brush to cause the
Surprise is an important aspect of
Frankenthaler’s creative process.
Even if she starts with a clear
idea in her mind’s eye, she cannot
completely control the colors that
she pours onto the canvas.
• Some colors are layered over other colors.
• Many shapes are outlined with a thinly colored
“halo” that blurs their edge. The “halo” is the
oily mark left by turpentine
that has separated from the
If you stand just inches
away from the painting,
you can immerse yourself
in even smaller sections
of canvas. One area might
remind you of small bits of
confetti, while another part
might make you feel that you are witness to an
explosion. The drips in the lower left might suggest
a gentle rain shower, while other areas invite you
to imagine the artist’s actions as she smeared, spat-
tered, or poured her paint.
appear opaque; others look watery thin. The tall
black shape at right has patches of dense black
on top of a much thinner wash.
In 1953, an artist named Morris Louis visited
Helen Frankenthaler’s New York studio and was
greatly impressed by her stain paintings. Afterwards, he too began thinning his paint and pouring
it onto unprimed canvas to develop his own distinctive style. Compare the work of Frankenthaler
and Louis to see how a single technique can be
used to produce work that is fundamentally different in style.
SchoolArts May/June 2010
Linda Andre is manager of teacher programs and
resources and holds the Sylvia Friedberg Nachlas
Endowed Chair for Museum Education at the Baltimore
Museum of Art.
Frankenthaler does not consider the unpainted
areas of her paintings as background. How has the
artist made the white, unpainted areas of her composition appear active rather than empty?
This painting is clearly not a realistic cityscape of
Madrid, but it might contain a reference to what
Frankenthaler saw while visiting the city. In the
very center, there is a blue rectangle with a triangular spike on top. Visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Plaza_Mayor,_Madrid to see a photograph of the
Casa de la Panadería on the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s
central plaza. Do you think Frankenthaler’s blue
shape was intentional or coincidental? Explain
paint to spatter; dabbed patches of color onto the
canvas; or laid one color on top of another.