Robert Motherwell was a noted figure of the New York School, largely thanks to his role bringing “automatic” drawing, a concept he’d picked up from the Surrealists on his travels to Europe, to the attention of his peers. Painterly free association, coupled with existentialism, were the linchpins of Abstract Expressionism, though Motherwell’s work was defined by formal stylishness. Nonetheless his most important series,"Elegy to the Spanish Republic, " was a somber condemnation of the brutalities of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike Picasso’s Guernica, also inspired by that conflict, Motherwell’s “Elegies” was not created contemporaneously with events. He began the series in 1948, continuing it until his death in 1991. These works varied widely from monumental canvases to modest works on paper but shared a brooding palette and a compositional scheme in which vertical bands or columns alternated with ovoid forms (a combination that in retrospect suggests faces looking out from prison bars). The paintings, however, were intended to convey their subjects through mood and scale.
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