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Characteristic of Helen Frankenthaler's paintings of the 1950s, Before the Caves consists of swirling stains of colors. Her staining process was a significant new direction that followed after Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and led the way to color field painting. In this process, washes of oil paint are quickly applied to raw canvas. The watery consistency of the paint results in luminous colors and many accidental splashes that enhance the emotional quality of the artist's gestures. Months after this painting was completed, Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, both of whom had recently studied with artist and teacher Hans Hofmann, traveled to the caves of Altamira on their honeymoon. The twice present, floating numeral "173" is actually the same as Motherwell's house number at the time.