Artist of the Week

Mark Rothko

Today (as this is being written) is painter Mark Rothko‘s birthday. Born September 25, 1903, in Dvinsk, Russian Empire, he is referred to as an abstract or expressionist painter, and rejected both of those labels. Rothko is known for his rectangles of at first brilliant and later on somber color works.

His father emigrated to America because Jews were blamed for many of the evils that plagued Russia.  Although he was a brilliant student he did not show any special art talents. Like his father he was more intersted in the rights of workers and that of women.

Rothko went onto Yale where he and a friend founded the statistical magazine, The Yale Saturday Evening Pest, that made fun of the Waspy and elitist community.

Rothko soon dropped out of Yale and in 1923 he visited a friend who was at the Art Students League of New York. It was here he saw his life as an artist take form. He encountered artist Arshile Gorky his first vision of the world of the world of the “avant-garde”. Along with Gorky he met fellow Russian Jewish artist Max Weber. Weber’s influence provided Rothko a way to see that art could be used as a means of expressing emotional and religious feeling.

Mark Rothko, The Omen of the Eagle,1942, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1986.43.107

Rothko ‘s work during the early 1940’s was symbolic and contained abstracted figures. Yet Rothko felt unfulfilled by this imagery. He felt art should reflect social and the human condition. Rothko felt, new subjects and a new idiom had to be found. He said, “It was with the utmost reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes….But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it.” (quote from Wikipedia). Rothko saw a deep connection between primitive art and children’s art. He began a book in 1936 that he never finished about this connection. He saw modern art as being derived from primitiveness much the way a child’s art looks. He also observed that one who is creative begins with color.

Mark Rothko Red, Orange, Tan, and Purple, 1949 Oil on canvas 84 1/2 x 68 1/2 inches (214.5 x 174 cm) Private collection ©1999 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko

In 1946 Rothko moved into painting with blocks of color. Although not a term used by Rothko himself, these works were called multiform paintings, devoid of figures or landscapes, these works took on an organic form. Large blurred paintings made up of blocks of color, Rothko felt they took on their own life and reflected what the figure never could. These large organic canvases are the style Rothko would work in until his death.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch), 1959 , National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1986.43.156

Untitled, Black on Grey, 1970


Rothko’s work began to darken dramatically during the late 1950s. Eventually his works went untitled or were given numbers. Some art historians attributed the darkening of his canvases to his poor health and depression. Rothko committed suicide on February 25, 1970. His work is represented in major museums and galleries around the world. There of course is so much to be written about Rothko’s life and work.  See the sites below and view the collection of material the Central Library’s Art division owns about him.

Happy Birthday, Mark Rothko: Rizzoli Press Publishes ‘Mark Rothko, The Decisive Decade: 1940-1950’. from the Huffington Post.

Mark Rothko at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The Rothko Chapel. Rothko at MoMA.

Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection. Rothko’s Legacy at PBS.

Rothko Exhibits

Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950 at the Columbia Museum of Art
September 14-January 6, 2013

 Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950 celebrates one of the world’s most influential and best-known artists of the 20th century by featuring 37 paintings, watercolors and works on paper, which are drawn largely from the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

 After its showing at the Columbia Museum of Art, the exhibition travels to the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio (February 1 – May 26, 2013), the Denver Art Museum (June 16 – September 29, 2013) and the Arkansas Art Center (October 25, 2013 – February 9, 2014).

Mark Rothko Retrospective of the artist’s most important works

NN Art Librarian@Central

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s