Robert Motherwell was a young American ‘Abstract Expressionist’ painter, printer, collage maker, and author. The creator of splendid series, “Elegy to the Spanish Republic,” Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1915. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the Stanford University, California. For a short period, he also studied painting at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco. At the Raymond Duncan Gallery of Paris, Motherwell had his first solo exhibition. Later, Robert took up painting as his full time job, in Greenwich. Here, he met ‘Abstract’ artists Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes. Robert’s creative experimentations were not only limited to painting, but also extended to collages. He displayed his artwork at the Art of this Century Gallery and participated at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
All said and done, his “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series is his hugely, rather most known and admired works of all. The title is a collective name to include over 150 oil paintings and numerous sketches & drawings. The main theme of this series was the Spanish Civil War, which swallowed the lives of more than 7,00,000 people. “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” is a commemoration of human suffering in the three-year battle of the Spanish Civil War.
Motherwell’s masterpiece first appeared in 1948 in a pen and ink drawing. Later, in 1949, Motherwell made a small painting “At five in the afternoon,” indebted to Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem with the same title. Lorca was killed in the Spanish War. Then in 1950, the artist titled his milestone work as “Elegy to the Spanish Republic.” The artist had explained the reason behind the title and said, ‘Making an Elegy is like building a temple, an altar, a ritual place … Unlike the rest of my work, the Elegies are, for the most part, public statements. The Elegies reflect the internationalist in me, interested in the historical forces of the twentieth century, with strong feelings about the conflicting forces in it.”
Robert Motherwell was also known to use turpentine with paint, which creates a shadow effect. He encompassed this ‘Symbolism’ in his most famous series, “Elegy to the Spanish Republic.” Through his paintings, he endorsed black as a symbol of death and white as life. The monoliths were represented as mausoleum and ovals as living forms. Critics believe that Motherwell’s Elegies were interesting, as it is earliest of the elegies to have used acrylic paint, Magma, which retains its intensity even when thinned.
Apart from painting, Motherwell was a lucid writer too. In 1958, he married Helen Frankenthaler. Over the next 30 years, he continued to develop his style and technical understanding, and created over 200 editions. Robert Motherwell died on July 16, 1991.