Although only twenty-one years old and still at University in California when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Motherwell was deeply affected by reports of the terrible violence. This work is related to the long series of works entitled ‘Elegy for the Spanish Republic’, which the artist began in the late 1940s and continued over three decades. Using predominantly black and white, the paintings represent life, death and injustice. Motherwell said of the series, ‘I discovered Black as one of my subjects – and with the black, the contrasting white, a sense of life and death which to me is quite Spanish. They are essentially the Spanish black of death contrasted with the dazzle of a Matisse-like sunlight’.