Barbara Ellen Rose was born on June 11, 1936, in Washington, the oldest child of Lillian and Ben Rose. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father, who owned a liquor store, had a cut-glass bar made for the family’s recreation room. By the age of 3, Barbara felt aesthetically offended by her “bland, tasteless or vulgar surroundings,” she wrote in a forthcoming memoir, and resolved to flee as soon as she could.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard and attended graduate school at Columbia, writing her thesis on 16th-century Spanish painting and visiting Pamplona on a Fulbright fellowship. It was the beginning of a lasting fascination with Madrid, where she eventually acquired a home. In 2010, she was awarded the Order of Isabella by the Spanish government for her contributions to Spanish culture.
Ms. Rose was still a student when she started dating Mr. Stella, a precocious Princeton alumnus whose austere black-stripe paintings were pushing art away from the expressionist past. In the fall of 1961 he followed her to Pamplona, sketching in their hotel room as she visited age-old churches to research Navarrese painting.
They were married that October at the register’s office in London. Michael Fried, the formalist art historian, served as a witness and gave them a volume of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings as a gift.
Ms. Rose later said that she started writing criticism with Mr. Fried’s encouragement. Her landmark essay “ABC Art,” published in Art in America in October 1965, identified a generation of young artists whose work, she wrote, gave off a “blank, neutral and mechanical impersonality.” They included Mr. Stella, as well as Carl Andre, Robert Morris and Donald Judd. Linking their work to European predecessors like Kazimir Malevich and, less predictably, Marcel Duchamp, she provided a lofty historical lineage for the vanguard art of the ’60s.
Her marriage to Mr. Stella ended in 1969, and they both divorced themselves from their early embrace of Minimalism as well. “The only thing anybody knows about me is that I wrote that article with the title I didn’t give it,” Ms. Rose lamented in Artforum magazine in 2016, referring to “ABC Art.” She blamed her editor for the headline.