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Image Rights
© Dedalus Foundation/VAGA, New York, NY
© Dedalus Foundation/VAGA, New York, NY


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Elegy Study
overall 22-¾ × 28-13/16 inches
oil on paper mounted on rag board
Not on view

Object Details

Paintings (Paintings)
Accession Number
incised into black paint UR “RM”; in pencil lower right “/53”
Physical Description
Mostly black on white ground
Credit Line
Gift of Margaret and Angus Wurtele and the Dedalus Foundation, 1995

object label Robert Motherwell, Elegy Study (1953) Walker Art Center, 1999

What is then more natural than passionately juxtaposing black and white, being and non-being, life and death?–Robert Motherwell, 1991

Robert Motherwell–widely recognized as the unofficial spokesperson for the American art movement known as Abstract Expressionism–is an artist whose paintings often have been inspired by modern poetry and philosophy. The writings of 19th- and 20th-century poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Octavio Paz have inspired the abstract compositions of his paintings.

The extensive Elegy to the Spanish Republic series of which this work is a part–originally created as a decoration for a poem by Harold Rosenberg–is the signature work of Motherwell’s career. The motif of black vertical bars and three ovals provided him with the basis for a new pictorial language, which he used throughout the series, much like the refrains found in a poem or a song. Although the title refers to the Spanish Civil War, the Elegies are not meant to evoke this specific event alone, but rather the universal tragedy that the war represents.

Walker solo exhibitions: Robert Motherwell: Recent Paintings, 1972; Robert Motherwell: The Collaged Image, 1985; Robert Motherwell: The Spanish Elegies, 1993; Robert Motherwell: Reality and Abstraction, 1996

Label text for Robert Motherwell, Elegy Study (1953), from the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 5, 1999 to September 2, 2001.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center