Manhattan cast stone fireplace mantel design from Old World Stoneworks

What’s Hanging Above Your Mantel? Understanding Color Field

In our ongoing quest to help customers find the ideal artwork to complement their mantel, this week we’ll look at color field painting. It’s a good match if you like abstract art and bright colors.

What is Color Field?

To the uninitiated, the color field movement of 1948-1968 can look overly simplistic. Many confused art viewers have observed the bright blobs of color and said, “My kindergartener could do that.” But there was a great deal of theory behind these post World War Two paintings. As Barnett Newman, one of the important color field painters, explained, “We are creating images whose reality is self-evident and which are devoid of the props and crutches that evoke associations with outmoded images, both sublime and beautiful.” In other words, they were moving as far from realism as possible, eschewing even the most abstracted figures. Instead, they used large fields of intense color to envelop the viewer and capture the primordial emotion found in ancient myths.
rothko paintings
An exhibition of Mark Rothko paintings.


In the late 1940s, Newman, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still were independently developing styles under the umbrella of Abstract Expressionism. In the 1950s, Abstract Expressionism formally split into color field abstraction and gesture painting.

The famous art critic Clement Greenberg considered this new development important and wrote about color field painting in an influential 1955 essay. He was especially impressed with the way the painters used color to depict depth and volume.

A new generation of color field painters in the late 1950s, including Helen Frankenthaler, took the style in a more decorative and less philosophical direction. Frankenthaler was known for dreamy paintings and a flat consistency she got by pouring paints onto unprimed canvas and letting them soak in, rather than sitting on the surface.

Seeing the famous Color Field works today

If you want to see some of these paintings in person, here are a few places to visit:

  • New York’s Museum of Modern Art has a large collection of Rothko paintings.
  • Denver is home to the Clyfford Still Museum.
  • The Tate in London owns several paintings by Barnett Newman
  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum owns works by Helen Frankenthaler

Color field plus mantels

Color field paintings still look modern and suit many types of décor. Any of our mantels would look pretty with a color field painting. But in keeping with the abstract, minimalist theory of color field, we recommend a mantel with simple, clean lines, such as the Montgomery or the Manhattan.
manhattan mantel
Our Manhattan mantel.

Whatever your favorite style of art, we’re confident it will pair well with one of our mantels. Call us today and we’ll help you determine the best mantel for your home.