Robert Motherwell, ‘At Five in the Afternoon’, 1948 -1949, Dedalus Foundation

This is the first painting in what would become Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic series.
The title alludes to the refrain of Federico García Lorca’s poem “Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías,”
in which the famed bullfighter is mortally wounded “At five in the afternoon. / It was exactly five in the afternoon.” This painting embodies what Motherwell understood as a “Spanish” sense of death, an
aesthetic based on strong passion austerely but persuasively communicated. The insistent repetitions
of the refrain in Lorca’s poem are paralleled by the way the black ovals are played against the repeated
black vertical forms.

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Private collection

About Robert Motherwell

Alongside Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell is considered one of the great American Abstract Expressionist painters. His esteemed intellect not only undergirded his gorgeous, expressive paintings—frequently featuring bold black shapes against fields of color—but also made Motherwell one of the leading writers, theorists, and advocates of the New York School. He forged close friendships with the European Surrealists and other intellectuals over his interests in poetry and philosophy, and as such served as a vital link between the pre-war avant-garde in Europe and its post-war counterpart in New York, establishing automatism and psychoanalysis as central concerns of American abstraction. "It's not that the creative act and the critical act are simultaneous," Motherwell said. "It's more like you blurt something out and then analyze it.

American, 1915-1991, Aberdeen, Washington, based in New York and Greenwich, Connecticut