• Post-War & Contemporary Evenin auction at Christies

    Sale 2219

    Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale

    10 November 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 38

    Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)

    Spanish Elegy No. 17

    Price Realised  


    Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
    Spanish Elegy No. 17
    signed and dated 'Robert Motherwell 1953' (on the reverse)
    oil on masonite
    9 x 12 in. (22.8 x 30.5 cm.)
    Painted in 1953.

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    This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Collages by Robert Motherwell being prepared by the Dedalus Foundation.

    The period before the first and second world wars was marked by a feeling of immense optimism in the United States. Art, music and literature from Europe influenced American art and artists. In the 1940s the Kootz gallery had provided space for viewing the works by significant young painters including Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb. The artists represented in the present collection served as the foundation for American Modernist movement.

    The present collection, which spreads across Christie's Contemporary Evening Sale and Day Sale, represents a perfect capsule of the art of this time, with examples that trace the line from American Modernism to Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. Paintings and sculptures by Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell will be offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Day sale (lots 211-227). This contemporary sale will be followed by the American Paintings sale on December 2nd, which will highlight brilliant examples by Milton Avery, Stuart Davis and Charles Burchfield. This collection is a highly personal and private vision that represents some of the most exciting visual and historically significant moments in the 20th century.

    Robert Motherwell's Spanish Elegy No. 17, is a paradigm of the angst and torment that dominated the artist's work during the Post-War era. This exceptional painting is one of few works from Spanish Elegies series that until now remained in private hands. The present lot is an exquisite and early example of the artist's signature Elegy scenes. Formerly in the exceptional Tremaine collection its boldness and monumentality belie its actual scale.

    The artist discovered the motif for the Elegies when he was decorating a page of a poem by Harold Rosenberg in 1948.

    This motif that characterizes the Elegy series has been variously interpreted as a combination of phalluses and ovoids, as bulls' tails and testicles hung side by side on the wall of the arena after the fight, architectural fragments, as well as purist formal juxtapositions of rectangular and curvilinear forms, or the contrast of straights and curves. As with this great small painting Spanish Elegy No. 17, the possibility of the schema's arousing such a broad range of associations, depending on the emotional vocabulary and disposition of the viewer, is a sign of its power to communicate, invoke, and awaken human passion by truly abstract means, while never losing its identity first and foremost as a pictorial statement.


    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
    Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Sr., Hartford
    Their sale; Christie's, New York, 12 November 1991, lot 3
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    Pre-Lot Text



    H. H. Arnason, "Robert Motherwell: The Years 1948 to 1965," Art International X, 20 April 1966, no. 4, pp. 23, 27, 28, pl. 16 (illustrated).
    H. H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1977, pp. 34 and 36.
    E. A. Carmean, Jr., American Art at Mid-Century: The Subject of Artists, June 1978-January 1979, p. 108, fig. 9 (illustrated).
    H. H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1982, pp. 34 and 36.


    New York, Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, Robert Motherwell, April-May 1953.
    Salt Lake City, Univeristy of Utah, Nine American Painters: The Fourth Annual Invitational Exhibition of the University of Utah Department of Art, March 1958, (illustrated upside down).
    Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters-The Spirit of Modernism, February-April 1984, p. 68 (illustrated).
    Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Delaunay to de Kooning, Modern Masters from the Tremaine Collection and the Wadsworth Atheneum, May-September 1991.