Robert Motherwell 

“The function of the modern artist is by definition the felt expression of modern reality… It is the values of our own epoch which we cannot find in past art.”

Robert Motherwell

Among the youngest of the New York School artists, Robert Motherwell (1915–1991) was a significant force in the artistic and intellectual development of the New York art world and a leading spokesperson of the Abstract Expressionists. His work in painting, printmaking, drawing, collage, and writing is characterized by a passionate commitment to the tenets of modernism and imagery that reflects the complexity of human experience. Motherwell was one of the first American artists to experiment with the surrealist practice of automation and embrace accident in his work. His series often investigate a single shape or organizational principle through invention and variation.

Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Motherwell studied philosophy and literature at Stanford University (1937) and Harvard University (1938). He studied French literature and painting in Paris, where he had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Duncan in 1939. In 1940, he moved to New York and briefly studied art history at Columbia University under Meyer Schapiro, who encouraged Motherwell to commit to his artistic practice and introduced the young artist to a group of Surrealist émigrés. In 1943, Motherwell began working in collage when Peggy Guggenheim invited him to participate in an exhibition that included collages by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Georges Braque. Motherwell’s first New York solo exhibition appeared at Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery in 1944. He lived in Greenwich Village, where his circle included Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, and Jackson Pollock, and he directed the publication of the series Documents of Modern Art (1944–52), which translated the writings of major European modernists. In 1948, he initiated his most well-known series, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, which would comprise nearly 150 works produced over three decades. He regularly exhibited with Samuel M. Kootz’s gallery and taught at Hunter College in New York (1950–59). In 1965, he was one of the first artists of his generation to be honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Motherwell experimented with different styles in the 1960s, arriving in 1967 at works that responded to Color Field painting with his austere series Open.

In 1970, Motherwell moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where he became deeply involved in printmaking and continued to innovate with painting in The Hollow Men series. That decade, his artwork was the subject of major retrospectives in Düsseldorf, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Edinburgh, and London. In 1983, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, organized a significant retrospective that traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, DC, and New York City. Another retrospective was presented in Mexico City, Monterrey, and Fort Worth in 1991, and numerous others have been organized since his death. Among his many honors are the Gold Medal of Honor, National Arts Club, New York (1983); Medalla de Oro de Bellas Artes, Madrid (1986); Centennial Medal of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University (1989); and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Bush (1989).


    • Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic
    • Dominique Lévy, New York
      November 4, 2015 - January 9, 2016
    • Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic (2015–16) at Dominique Lévy was the first gallery exhibition in over twenty years to offer a fresh survey of the monumental series that marked a pivotal moment in the history of modern art. Begun in 1948, Motherwell intended the Elegies as public laments, deeply political in their condemnation of the violence of the Spanish Civil War and the isolationist fascism of General Francisco Franco. The artist described them as “general metaphors of the contrast between life and death, and their interrelation.” Returning again an...

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Selected Artworks

    • Robert Motherwell
    • Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 129, 1974–75
    • Acrylic and charcoal on canvas
    • 96¹⁄₁₆ × 120¹⁄₁₆ inches (244 × 304.9 cm)
    • Robert Motherwell
    • Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 130, 1974–75
    • Acrylic on canvas
    • 96 × 120 inches (243.8 × 304.8 cm)
    • Robert Motherwell
    • Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 1970
    • Acrylic and charcoal on canvas
    • 82½ × 188½ inches (209.6 × 478.8 cm)
    • Robert Motherwell
    • The Figure 4 on an Elegy, 1960
    • Oil on paper mounted on Masonite
    • 22¾ × 28¾ inches (57.8 × 73 cm)

Selected Press