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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Irish Elegy

Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation

Irish Elegy


Robert Motherwell

American, 1915-1991

Unique among Robert Motherwell’s works in color and theme, Irish Elegy is compositionally related to the artist’s celebrated series of over 100 paintings completed during the years 1948 and 1967: Elegies to the Spanish Republic. The works, which feature a recurring motif of abutting black ovals, followed the Spanish Civil War and were meant as a “lamentation or funeral song”—a reminder of the continued dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. In 1965, as political tensions in Ireland were on the rise, Motherwell drew attention to yet another escalating conflict. His connection to Ireland was also a personal one: the country was home to his maternal grandmother. As noted by scholars, Irish Elegy is a rare Elegy painting in that the thrust of the rough oval forms move from right to left rather than from left to right.
Acrylic on canvas
69 1/2 x 83 3/4 in. (176.5 × 212.8 cm)
Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis
Provenance: The artist; [Knoedler Contemporary Art, New York]; acquired from the above by Jane and Richard E. Lang, Seattle, 1975; Friday Foundation, 2018; Seattle Art Museum, 2020
Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Robert Motherwell, Sept. 30 - Nov. 28, 1965 (organized under the auspices of the International Council at the Museum of Modern Art: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Stedelijk Museum; London, England, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Brussels, Belgium, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Essen, Germany, Museum Folkwang; Turin, Italy, Museo Civico, Galleria d’Arte Moderna). Text by Frank O’Hara. Cat. no. 87, reproduced p. 71.

San Francisco Museum of Art, Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper, Feb. 20 - Mar. 18, 1967, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Durham, North Carolina, Duke University; Minneapolis, University of Minnesota; Saint Joseph, Minnesota, College of St. Benedict; Salt Lake City, University of Utah; San Antonio, White Memorial Museum; Tampa, Library Gallery, University of South Florida; Houston, Contemporary Arts Association; Baltimore Museum of Art; Bloomington, Indiana University; Boulder, University of Colorado; Riverside, University of California; Sacramento State College) [Irish Elegy shown in San Francisco only].

Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art, Paintings and Collages by Robert Motherwell, Nov. 2 - Dec. 7,1969 (Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Jan. 9 - Feb. 15, 1970; Palo Alto, California, Stanford University Art Museum [as New Works by Robert Motherwell], Apr. 14 - May 17, 1970). Cat. no. 15.

Seattle, Washington, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, One Night of Color, Feb. 6, 1981.

Seattle, Washington, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Art in America: Washington Collections—An American Tradition: Abstraction, Dec. 4, 1981 - Jan. 17, 1982.

Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Robert Motherwell, Oct. 1 - Nov. 27, 1983 (Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles Museum of Art, Jan. 5 - Mar. 4, 1984; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Apr. 12 - June 3, 1984; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, June 21 - Aug. 5, 1984; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Sept. 15 - Nov. 4, 1984) [Irish Elegy not shown in Los Angeles]. Cat. no. 44, p. 127, reproduced p. 85.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Richard and Jane Lang Collection, Feb. 2 - Apr. 1, 1984. Cat. no. 33, pp. 46-47, reproduced.

New York, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Robert Motherwell, Dec. 3, 1984 - Feb. 3, 1985. Cat. no. 27.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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