Robert Motherwell. Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 108. 1965-67

Robert Motherwell Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 108 1965-67

  • Not on view

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 108 describes a stately passage of the organic and the geometric, the accidental and the deliberate. Like other Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell was attracted to the Surrealist principle of automatism—of methods that escaped the artist's conscious intention—and his brushwork has an emotional charge, but within an overall structure of a certain severity. In fact Motherwell saw careful arrangements of color and form as the heart of abstract art, which, he said, "is stripped bare of other things in order to intensify it, its rhythms, spatial intervals, and color structure."

Motherwell intended his Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings, completed between 1948 and 1967) as a "lamentation or funeral song" after the Spanish Civil War. His recurring motif here is a rough black oval, repeated in varying sizes and degrees of compression and distortion. Instead of appearing as holes leading into a deeper space, these light-absorbent blots stand out against a ground of relatively even, predominantly white upright rectangles. They have various associations, but Motherwell himself related them to the display of the dead bull's testicles in the Spanish bullfighting ring.

Motherwell described the Elegies as his "private insistence that a terrible death happened that should not be forgot. But," he added, "the pictures are also general metaphors of the contrast between life and death, and their interrelation."

Elegy to the Spanish

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, MoMA Highlights New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 244.
Oil on canvas
6' 10" x 11' 6 1/4" (208.2 x 351.1 cm)
Charles Mergentime Fund
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].