Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
Property from the Estate of David Pincus
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)

Mural Study

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
Mural Study
signed and titled 'Robert Motherwell "MURAL SKETCH"' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas mounted on panel
6 1/8 x 12 in. (15.5 x 30.4 cm.)
Painted in 1974.
Estate of the artist, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1978, p. 118, fig. 22 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of paintings and collages being prepared by the Dedalus Foundation.

Throughout Robert Motherwell's career, a relatively small number of compositional starting points or subject matters intrigued him and he explored the possibilities within each one. His most noteworthy series are his early Spanish Prisoner works from the1940's and the Spanish Elegy paintings for which the artist is best known.

Motherwell's first Elegy was painted 1948. Curiously, the series which is associated with mural-size paintings began with a modest drawing, little more than a doodle, measuring 14 x 11 in. Motherwell was co-editor of the short-lived journal Possibilities and Harold Rosenberg submitted a short, bleak poem for its next issue (which would never be published). Motherwell illuminated the somewhat bleak poem with a simple Elegy (which was named well after it was painted), consisting of three staunch vertical shafts, divided by three black ovoid forms. Given that the publication would be printed in black and white, Motherwell restricted himself to black ink, despite being a brilliant colorist. Mural Study, 1974 is a direct study for the final stages of the artist's iconic work, Elegy to the Spanish republic No. 100, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The international event that most affected Motherwell was the Spanish Civil War. This tragic conflict, which ravaged Spain and brought the Facist dictator Franco to power, inspired a generation of artists to action and was the inspiration for Picasso's epic Guernica. According to Motherwell, works like the present Elegy are both specifically related to that conflict as well as a general meditation on tragedy.

In contrast to the stereotype of the Abstract Expressionist painter as inarticulate and brash, Motherwell was an intellectual, publishing some of the most compelling modern and contemporary art criticism of the Twentieth Century. His critical prowess at times has made him suspect in a movement that prides itself on raw, expressive emotion. Rather than seek to break from the past, as Jackson Pollock was attempting, Motherwell saw his work as part of the art historical dialogue.

Robert Motherwell in his studio. Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah. (c) Fred W. McDarrah Contact:Fred W. McDarrah.

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