Robert Motherwell studied painting in the 1930s at the California School of Fine Arts and earned a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford University in 1936. He later studied at Harvard and Columbia Universities and traveled to Europe in the summers. Through the art historian Meyer Schapiro he met a number of Surrealist artists who were in wartime exile in New York City. His deep interest in their notion of "automatism" and his friendship with the Chilean Surrealist painter Matta convinced him to paint full time after 1941.
Motherwell painted a work entitled Little Spanish Prison that year, signaling the onset of his lifelong obsession with the Iberian peninsula and the tragic civil war that had ravaged it in the 1930s. His series on this subject, known collectively as Elegy to the Spanish Republic, began in earnest in 1948.
Castile (Espana), one of the first dozen major paintings from this extended group, was included in the 1952 Carnegie International. Most of the works in this series are black and white and share a basic compositional motif of stark vertical bars separating brushy, organic shapes. Though the paintings were frequently developed from either collages or drawings, they were ultimately spontaneous acts in the face of a blank canvas. They persuasively embody the technical and compositional freedoms common to the best works of Abstract Expressionism.