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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY,
American, 1915 - 1991
Black on White
Oil on canvas

78 x 163 3/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase

Arts of North America

In the monumental oil painting Black on White, Robert Motherwell characteristically balances contradictory elements—intellect and emotion, shape and line, sweeping gesture and measured rhythms—in pursuit of lyrical and poetic expression. This majestic work was composed in panoramic format. 

American artist Motherwell was associated with the Abstract Expressionist generation of painters who emphasized the process of painting. One of the youngest of this group, he stressed the emotive powers of color and the gestural brushstroke in his broadly expansive compositions. Through his writings, Motherwell served as the Abstract Expressionists' major theorist. In 1951 he stated, “One might truthfully say that abstract art is stripped bare of other things in order to intensify it, its rhythms, spatial intervals, and color structure. Abstraction is a process of emphasis, and emphasis vivifies life.”