Helen Frankenthaler was a central figure in the New York School of painting, a movement that emerged in the early 1950s. She was involved with the art critic Clement Greenberg, and later married and divorced the painter Robert Motherwell.
Frankenthaler's background was Jewish and intellectual. Her father was a New York State Supreme Court judge, and she grew up on New York’s Upper East Side. According to the Jewish Women's Archive, "Frankenthaler absorbed the privileged background of a cultured and progressive Jewish family that encouraged all three daughters to prepare themselves for professional careers."
Frankenthaler was widely recognized when she was in her early twenties, especially for a work titled Mountains and Sea (shown above). "The color field painting that came to prominence during the later 1950s and 1960s, by Frankenthaler, Louis, Noland, Dzubas, and Jules Olitski, among many others, can be said to have had its origin at that moment." In an art world that discriminated against women, she managed to create and maintain a distinctive reputation.