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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 × 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]; purchased from gallery by Jane and Richard Lang, Seattle, Washington, 1975
Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryProvidence, Rhode Island, Providence Art Club, Critics Choice: Art since World War II, Mar. 31 - Apr. 24, 1965. Cat. no. 48, reproduced p. 35.

New 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, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Feb. 20 - Mar. 18, 1967.

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, New Works by Robert Motherwell, Apr. 14 - May 17, 1970). Cat. no. 15.

Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Robert Motherwell, Oct. 1 - Nov. 27, 1983. Cat. no. 44, reproduced p. 85.

New York, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Robert Motherwell, Dec. 6, 1984 - Feb. 3, 1985. Cat. no. 27.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Richard and Jane Lang Collection, Feb. 2 - Apr. 1, 1984. Text by Bruce Guenther and Barbara Johns. Cat. no. 33, pp. 46-47.

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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