Elegy To The Spanish Republic #173

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Robert Motherwell

American, 1915 - 1991

Elegy to the Spanish Republic #173, 1990

  • On View

Acrylic on canvas

Dimensions: 50 × 60 in. (127 × 152.4 cm)
Framed: 52 × 62 in. (132.1 × 157.5 cm)

Museum purchase and Gift of the Dedalus Foundation, 1997.103

Motherwell began work on his Spanish Elegy Series in 1948, being influenced by André Malraux’s speech about the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. In the same year, he worked with writer and critic Harold Rosenberg on a publication called Possibilities, for which he created a drawing, At Five in the Afternoon, which was titled after a poem by Federico García Lorca, a poet executed during the Spanish Civil War. This small work (15 x 20 in.) was in Helen Frankenthaler’s collection (to whom Motherwell was married) and was the first in well over 100 paintings from the Spanish Elegy Series. This series uses strong vertical shapes and smaller ovoid shapes—almost exclusively in black and white, sometimes with small additions of red, ochre, or blue. The contrast between the black forms and white background creates an optical illusion that makes it difficult to determine if the black shapes in the image represent solid elements protruding toward the viewer, or if they represent a void. The Spanish Elegy Series was something Motherwell returned to throughout his career. Elegy to the Spanish Republic #173 was one of the last works that Motherwell created in this series, near the end of his life.

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