Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 1962, is an archetypal example from the artist's most celebrated series. The Elegies constitute an impressive and coherent body of work, which even from their nascent stages, have been at the fundamental core of Motherwell's aesthetic and emotive concerns. Inspired by a fiery speech by André Malraux at an anti-war rally on the Spanish Civil War in 1937, a young Motherwell began to visually eulogize what in his words, was a "regression" of civilization. Motherwell, through his eponymously titled Elegies, extended this poetic lament for the dead to memorialize those who fell fighting for the cause of the Spanish Republic during their Civil War, and on a greater level, as a tribute for something one cared about. Painted years after the Spanish Civil War and poignantly during the artist's active protest of the Vietnam War, Elegy to the Spanish Republic both specifically relates to the conflict of the former and generally meditates on tragedy. The somber appearance of the weighty black forms juxtaposed with the reverberating white ground universalize the injustices of the war's massacres while simultaneously avoiding the proselytizing tone of political painting. The Elegies, therefore, must be understood as a visual and enduring pathos.
The austerity of the monochromatic palette and rigidity of the composition dramatically foil the spontaneous emotive elements central to the Elegies success. Through the restriction of a motif comprised of alternating ovoid and rectangular forms, Motherwell liberally employs the variations inherent in the painting process to articulate considerable emotion. The present work draws particular resonance to Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 70, painted the year prior in 1961, presently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The painterly brushwork and gestural media drips in this work bare an irrefutable similitude to those of Elegy to the Spanish Republic, heightened by the tension and resistance that the ovoid forms seem to sustain against the vertical swathes of black paint. Their very composition reveals the artist's rebellion against the self-imposed compositional order and the personal eccentricities within Motherwell's emotive abstract composition symbolize metaphorical resistances physiologically, politically and culturally.
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