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© Estate of  Elizabeth Murray/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Tempest, 1979

Artist: Elizabeth Murray, American, 1940 - 2007

Medium: Oil on canvas

Painting: 120 x 170 in. (304.8 x 431.8 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Art Today, purchased with matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts

Object Number: 80.7

Copyright: © Estate of Elizabeth Murray/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

On View

Elizabeth Murray, 1980 (sold through Paula Cooper Gallery, Inc., New York, New York)

Elizabeth Murray’s distinctively shaped canvases break the traditional boundaries of the two-dimensional picture plane. Her sculptural paintings playfully blur the line between the painting as an object and the painting as a space for depicting objects. Often her nonfigurative pieces suggest human characteristics, personalities, or emotions through an interaction of colors and shapes.


Inspired by Giorgione’s The Tempest (1505), Murray was more interested in evoking a mood than depicting a clearly defined narrative. She, like the Italian Renaissance painter, created a feeling of unease by pairing disparate forms and colors. Through her use of complementary colors, she generates a sense of energy; the effect of the vibrant green on a red background and the orange over the blue is electrifying. Breaking through the rounded forms of orange and green, the yellow zigzag lines mimic lightning bolts while accentuating the sharp points of the canvas itself. The dynamic qualities of the storm are further emphasized through the juxtaposition of the large, round shapes with the angular forms in the composition and the multisided canvas. Through this dissonant union, the artist elicits palpable tension. Everything is electrified, in flux, and exploding.


Tempest represents an important turning point in the artist’s career. It is one of her first “shaped” canvases, and one of her first paintings to be placed in a museum collection. Born in Chicago, Murray received her BFA degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and earned her MFA degree at Mills College in Oakland, California.