Robert Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic has been interpreted as the artist’s on-going personal expression of his belief “that a terrible death happened that should not be forgotten.” Motherwell was referring to the events of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The savage nature of that war—more than 700,000 killed, including the mass-executions of thousands of civilians—roused a legion of artists to action. Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica (1937) expresses his outrage over the unfair nature of the conflict, specifically the bombing of defenseless civilians from the sky by the Generalissimo’s Nazi allies. That painting has become the enduring symbol of the war.
For Robert Motherwell, the war became a metaphor for all injustice. Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings completed between 1948 and 1967) is a commemoration of human courage in the face of terror and suffering. He saw the heroism of the defenders of the elected government in stark contrast to the duplicitous dealings of the fascist alliance that ultimately prevailed. To portray this visually Motherwell’s recurring theme is a sublime contemplation of life and death, equating to light and dark. The abstract concept common to the Elegies—an alternating pattern of oval shapes slotted between columnar forms—has been said to represent the dialectical nature of life itself, expressed through the juxtaposition of black against white—the colors of death and life. The Republic is evoked as a bull (the symbol of Spain), once strong and radiant, heartbreakingly butchered by Franco, now only a dark memory.
The match between FC Barcelona and UD Las Palmas was played with empty stands at Camp Nou in protest of the Spanish government’s actions in Catalonia. (Alex Caparros / Getty Images)
Barcelona plays Las Palmas in an empty stadium due to the vote today for Catalonian independence from Spain. Barcelona is in Catalonia. Las Palmas is in the Canary Islands. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) one of the great fears of the Nationalists was that the Republican government would allow Catalonia to split from Spain. When the Nationalists launched the war to overthrow the elected Republican government their top general, Francisco Franco, was flown from the Canary Islands to lead the insurgency. In the decades that followed the Nationalist victory, a victory aided and abetted by Hitler and Mussolini, Franco brutalized the Catalonians. One of the only avenues left for them to get back at him, and hold on to their independence, was through their beloved soccer club– Barcelona. Today Las Palmas wore the Spanish national flag on their uniforms to protest the vote. History rhymes in mysterious ways. Barcelona won the game! We’ll see what happens with the vote.
Eric Blair’s (aka George Orwell) masterpiece “1984” is suddenly the flavor of the month again, with good reason. But one can’t fully understand the motivations and experiences that led him to write it without having also read his unforgettable memoir from his time fighting for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War– “Homage to Catalonia.” Late in life he wrote: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”
The XV International Brigade, nicknamed Brigada Abraham Lincoln, fought against Franco for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. Composed primarily of volunteer battalions from Britain and America, but also Canada, Ireland, the Balkans, France and Cuba, the 15th fought valiantly, and suffered heavy casualties, at Jarama, Brunete, Teruel and the Ebro River. Here is the Christmas greetings card sent out by the XV International Brigade and comrades in the Republican Army in 1937….
Del Berg, a 100-year-old veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who was its last known survivor, passed away on February 28, 2016. NY Times Obituary
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Evening News March 20 2023
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