Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

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Mark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz (September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970), was a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n-born American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 painter. He is classified as an abstract expressionist
Abstract expressionism
Abstract expressionism was an American post–World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris...

, although he himself rejected this label, and even resisted classification as an "abstract painter".

Childhood


Mark Rothko (Marcus Rothkowitz, Mark Rotkovich) was born in Dvinsk, Vitebsk Province
Vitebsk Province
Vitebsk Province may refer to one of the following* Viciebsk Voblast of Belarus or Byelorussian SSR*Vitebsk Guberniya of Russian Empire...

, Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 (now Daugavpils
Daugavpils
Daugavpils is a city in southeastern Latvia, located on the banks of the Daugava River, from which the city gets its name. Daugavpils literally means "Daugava Castle". With a population of over 100,000, it is the second largest city in the country after the capital Riga, which is located some...

, Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

). His father, Jacob Rothkowitz, was a pharmacist
Pharmacist
Pharmacists are allied health professionals who practice in pharmacy, the field of health sciences focusing on safe and effective medication use...

 and an intellectual, who provided his children with a secular and political, rather than religious, upbringing. Unlike Jews in most cities of Czarist Russia, those in Dvinsk had been spared from violent outbreaks of anti-Semitic pogroms. However, in an environment where Jews were often blamed for many of the evils that befell Russia, Rothko’s early childhood was plagued with fear.

Despite Jacob Rothkowitz's modest income, the family was highly educated, and able to speak Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew. Following Jacob's return to Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

, he sent Marcus, his youngest son, to the cheder
Cheder
A Cheder is a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.-History:...

 at age 5, where he studied the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 although his elder siblings had been educated in the public school system.

Emigration from Russia to the U.S.


Fearing that his sons were about to be drafted into the Czarist army, Jacob Rothkowitz emigrated from Russia to the United States, following the path of many other Jews who left Daugavpils in the wake of Cossack purges. These émigrés included two of Jacob's brothers, who managed to establish themselves as clothing manufacturers in Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Portland is a city located in the Pacific Northwest, near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 Census, it had a population of 583,776, making it the 29th most populous city in the United States...

, a common profession among Eastern European immigrants. Marcus remained in Russia with his mother and elder sister Sonia. They joined Jacob and the elder brothers later, arriving at Ellis Island in the winter of 1913 after 12 days at sea. Jacob's death a few months later left the family without economic support. One of Marcus’ great aunts did unskilled labor, Sonia operated a cash register, while Marcus worked in one of his uncle’s warehouses, selling newspapers to employees.

Marcus started school in the United States in 1913, quickly accelerating from third to fifth grade, and completed the secondary level with honors at Lincoln High School in Portland, in June 1921 at the age of 17. He learned his fourth language, English, and became an active member of the Jewish community center, where he proved adept at political discussions. Like his father, Rothko was passionate about such issues as workers’ rights and women's right to contraception.

He received a scholarship to Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 based on academic performance, but it has been suggested that Yale only made this offer in order to lure Rothko’s friend, Aaron Director
Aaron Director
Aaron Director , a celebrated professor at the University of Chicago Law School, played a central role in the development of the Chicago school of economics...

, with a similar proposal. After one year, the scholarship ran out and Rothko took menial jobs to support his studies.

Rothko found the "WASP"
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is an informal term, often derogatory or disparaging, for a closed group of high-status Americans mostly of British Protestant ancestry. The group supposedly wields disproportionate financial and social power. When it appears in writing, it is usually used to...

 Yale community to be elitist and racist. He and Aaron Director started a satirical magazine, The Yale Saturday Evening Pest, which lampooned the school’s stuffy, bourgeois attitude. Following his second year, Rothko dropped out, and did not return until he was awarded an honorary degree 46 years later.

Early career


In the autumn of 1923, Rothko found work in New York's garment district and took up residence on the Upper West Side. While visiting a friend at the Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York
The Art Students League of New York is an art school located on West 57th Street in New York City. The League has historically been known for its broad appeal to both amateurs and professional artists, and has maintained for over 130 years a tradition of offering reasonably priced classes on a...

, he saw students sketching a model. According to Rothko, this was the beginning of his life as an artist. Even his self-described "beginning" at the Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York
The Art Students League of New York is an art school located on West 57th Street in New York City. The League has historically been known for its broad appeal to both amateurs and professional artists, and has maintained for over 130 years a tradition of offering reasonably priced classes on a...

 was not whole-hearted commitment; two months after he returned to Portland to visit his family, he joined a theater group run by Clark Gable
Clark Gable
William Clark Gable , known as Clark Gable, was an American film actor most famous for his role as Rhett Butler in the 1939 Civil War epic film Gone with the Wind, in which he starred with Vivien Leigh...

’s wife, Josephine Dillon. Whatever his dramatic ability may have been, he looked nothing like the successful actors of the day, and professional acting seemed an improbable career.

Returning to New York, Rothko briefly enrolled in the New School of Design, where one of his instructors was the artist Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-born American painter who had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism. As such, his works were often speculated to have been informed by the suffering and loss he experienced of the Armenian genocide.-Early life:...

. This was probably his first encounter with a member of the "avant-garde". That autumn, he took courses at the Art Students League of New York taught by still-life artist Max Weber
Max Weber (artist)
For the social theorist and philosopher, see Max WeberMax Weber was a Jewish-American painter who worked in the style of cubism before migrating to Jewish themes towards the end of his life.-Biography:...

, a fellow Russian Jew. It was due to Weber that Rothko began to see art as a tool of emotional and religious expression, and Rothko’s paintings from this era reveal a Weberian influence.

Rothko’s circle


Rothko’s move to New York established him in a fertile artistic atmosphere. Modernist painters had shows in the New York galleries, and the city’s museums were an invaluable resource to foster a budding artist’s knowledge, experience and skills. Among those early influences were the works of the German Expressionists, the surrealist work of Paul Klee
Paul Klee
Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, and is considered both a German and a Swiss painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was, as well, a student of orientalism...

, and the paintings of Georges Rouault
Georges Rouault
Georges Henri Rouault[p] was a French Fauvist and Expressionist painter, and printmaker in lithography and etching.-Childhood and education:Rouault was born in Paris into a poor family...

. In 1928, Rothko exhibited works with a group of other young artists at the appropriately named Opportunity Gallery. His paintings included dark, moody, expressionist interiors, as well as urban scenes, and were generally well accepted among critics and peers. Despite modest success, Rothko still needed to supplement his income, and in 1929 he began giving classes in painting and clay sculpture at the Center Academy, where he remained as teacher until 1952. During this time, he met Adolph Gottlieb
Adolph Gottlieb
Adolph Gottlieb was an American abstract expressionist painter, sculptor and graphic artist.-Biography:Gottlieb was born in New York to Jewish parents. From 1920-1921 he studied at the Art Students League of New York, after which he traveled in France and Germany for a year...

, who, along with Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters.-Early life:...

, Joseph Solman
Joseph Solman
Joseph Solman was a Jewish American painter, a founder of The Ten, a group of New York City Expressionist painters in the 1930s...

, Louis Schanker
Louis Schanker
Louis Schanker was an American abstract artist born in 1903. He grew up in an orthodox Jewish environment in the Bronx, New York. His parents were of Romanian descent...

, and John Graham
John D. Graham
John D. Graham was a Ukrainian-born American Modernist / figurative painter.He was born Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowsky in Kiev, Ukraine...

, was part of a group of young artists surrounding the painter Milton Avery
Milton Avery
Milton Avery was an American modern painter. Born in Altmar, New York, he moved to Connecticut in 1898 and later to New York City.-Biography:...

, fifteen years Rothko’s senior. Avery’s stylized, natural scenes, utilizing a rich knowledge of form and color, would be a tremendous influence on Rothko. Soon Rothko's paintings took on Averian subject matter and color, as in Bathers, or Beach Scene of 1933/34.

Rothko, Gottlieb, Newman, Solman, Graham, and their mentor, Avery, spent considerable time together, vacationing at Lake George
Lake George (town), New York
Lake George is a town in Warren County, New York, USA. The population was 3,578 at the 2000 census. The town is named after the lake, Lake George. Within the town is a village also named Lake George. The town is part of the Glens Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area.- History :The lake was...

 and Gloucester, Massachusetts
Gloucester, Massachusetts
Gloucester is a city on Cape Ann in Essex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. It is part of Massachusetts' North Shore. The population was 28,789 at the 2010 U.S. Census...

, spending their day painting and their evenings discussing art. During a 1932 visit to Lake George, Rothko met Edith Sachar, a jewelry designer, whom he married on November 12. The following summer, Rothko’s first one-man show was held at the Portland Art Museum
Portland Art Museum
The Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, United States, was founded in 1892, making it the oldest art museum on the West Coast and seventh oldest in the United States. Upon completion of the most recent renovations, the Portland Art Museum became one of the twenty-five largest art museums in...

, consisting mostly of drawings and aquarelles, as well as the works of Rothko’s pre-adolescent students from the Center Academy. His family was unable to understand Rothko’s decision to be an artist, especially considering the dire economic situation of the Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

. Having suffered serious financial setbacks, the Rothkowitzes were mystified by Rothko’s seeming indifference to financial necessity; they felt he was doing his mother a disservice by not finding a more lucrative and realistic career.

First one-man show in New York


Returning to New York, Rothko had his first East Coast one-man show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery. He showed fifteen oil paintings, mostly portraits, along with some aquarelles and drawings. It was the oils that would capture the critics’ eye; Rothko’s use of rich fields of colors moved beyond Avery's influence. In late 1935, Rothko joined with Ilya Bolotowsky
Ilya Bolotowsky
Ilya Bolotowsky was a leading early 20th-century painter in abstract styles in New York City. His work, a search for philosophical order through visual expression, embraced cubism and geometric abstraction and was much influenced by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.Born to Jewish parents in St...

, Ben-Zion, Adolph Gottlieb, Lou Harris, Ralph Rosenborg, Louis Schanker
Louis Schanker
Louis Schanker was an American abstract artist born in 1903. He grew up in an orthodox Jewish environment in the Bronx, New York. His parents were of Romanian descent...

 and Joseph Solman
Joseph Solman
Joseph Solman was a Jewish American painter, a founder of The Ten, a group of New York City Expressionist painters in the 1930s...

 to form "The Ten" (Whitney Ten Dissenters), whose mission (according to a catalog from a 1937 Mercury Gallery show) was "to protest against the reputed equivalence of American painting and literal painting." Rothko's style was already evolving in the direction of his renowned later works, yet, despite this newfound exploration of color, Rothko turned his attention to another formal and stylistic innovation, inaugurating a period of surrealist paintings influenced by mythological fables and symbols. He was earning a growing reputation among his peers, particularly among the group that formed the Artists' Union. Begun in 1937, and including Gottlieb and Soloman, the group's plan was to create a municipal art gallery to show self-organized group exhibitions. The Artists' Union was a cooperative which brought together resources and talent of various artists to create an atmosphere of mutual admiration and self-promotion. In 1936, the group showed at the Galerie Bonaparte in France. Then, in 1938, a show was held at the Mercury Gallery, in direct defiance of the Whitney Museum, which the group regarded as having a provincial, regionalist agenda. It was also during this period that Rothko, like many artists, found employment with the Works Progress Administration, a labor relief agency created under Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

’s New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 in response to the economic crisis. As the Depression waned, Rothko continued on in government service, working for TRAP, an agency that employed artists, architects and laborers in the restoration and renovation of public buildings. Many other important artists were also employed by TRAP, including Avery, DeKooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning was a Dutch American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands....

, Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Paul Jackson Pollock , known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. He had a volatile personality, and...

, Reinhardt, David Smith
David Smith (sculptor)
David Roland Smith was an American Abstract Expressionist sculptor and painter, best known for creating large steel abstract geometric sculptures.-Biography:...

, Louise Nevelson
Louise Berliawsky Nevelson
Louise Nevelson was an American sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. Born in Czarist Russia, she emigrated with her family to the United States in the early 20th century when she was three years old. Nevelson learned English at school, as she...

, eight of the "Ten" artists of the dissenter group, and Rothko’s old teacher, Arshile Gorky.

Development of style


In 1936, Rothko began writing a book, never completed, about similarities in the art of children and the work of modern painters. According to Rothko, the work of modernists, influenced by primitive art, could be compared to that of children in that "child art transforms itself into primitivism, which is only the child producing a mimicry of himself." In this manuscript, he observed that "the fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic. We start with color."

Rothko was using fields of color in his aquarelles and city scenes, and his subject matter and form at this time had become non-intellectual.

Rothko's work matured from representation and mythological subjects into rectangular fields of color and light, that later culminated – or self-destructed – in his final works for the Rothko Chapel. However, between the primitivist and playful urban scenes and aquarelles of the early period, and the late, transcendent fields of color, was a period of transition. It was a rich and complex milieu which included two important events in Rothko’s life: the onset of World War II, and his reading of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Maturity


Rothko separated from his wife, Edith Sachar, in the summer of 1937, following Edith’s increased success in the jewelry business. Rothko helped with his wife's business, but did not enjoy it. At this time, Rothko was, in comparison, a financial failure. He and Sachar reconciled several months later, yet their relationship remained tense. On February 21, 1938, Rothko finally became a citizen of the United States, prompted by fears that the growing Nazi influence in Europe might provoke sudden deportation of American Jews.

In a related political development, following the Hitler-Stalin Pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 of 1939, Rothko, along with Avery, Gottlieb, and others, left the American Artists’ Congress in order to dissociate themselves from the Congress’ alignment with radical Communism. In June, Rothko and a number of other artists formed the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors. Their aim was to keep their art free from political propaganda. A rise of Nazi sympathy in the United States heightened Rothko's fears of anti-Semitism, and in January 1940, he abbreviated his name from "Marcus Rothkowitz" to "Mark Rothko". The name "Roth," a common abbreviation, had become, as a result of its commonality, identifiably Jewish, therefore he settled upon "Rothko".

Inspiration from mythology


Fearing that modern American painting had reached a conceptual dead end, Rothko was intent upon exploring subjects other than urban and natural scenes. He sought subjects that would complement his growing concern with form, space, and color. The world crisis of war lent this search an immediacy, because he insisted that the new subject matter be of social impact, yet able to transcend the confines of current political symbols and values. In his essay, "The Romantics Were Prompted," published in 1949, Rothko argued that the "archaic artist ... found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods and demigods" in much the same way that modern man found intermediaries in Fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and the Communist Party
Communist party
A political party described as a Communist party includes those that advocate the application of the social principles of communism through a communist form of government...

. For Rothko, "without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama."

Rothko’s use of mythology
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 as a commentary on current history was not novel. Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman read and discussed the works of Freud and Jung
Jung
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, an influential thinker and the founder of analytical psychology.Jung may also refer to:* Jung * JUNG, Java Universal Network/Graph Framework-See also:...

, in particular their theories concerning dreams and the archetypes of the collective unconscious, and understood mythological symbols as images that refer to themselves, operating in a space of human consciousness that transcends specific history and culture. Rothko later said his artistic approach was "reformed" by his study of the "dramatic themes of myth." He apparently stopped painting altogether for the length of 1940, and read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams
Interpretation of dreams
Interpretation of dreams may refer to:* Dream interpretation is the process of assigning meaning to dreams* Oneiromancy, a form of divination based upon dreams* The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud's 1899 book about psychoanalysis and dreams...

 and Frazer’s Golden Bough.

Influence of Nietzsche


Rothko’s new vision would attempt to address modern man’s spiritual and creative mythological requirements. The most crucial philosophical influence on Rothko in this period was Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

’s The Birth of Tragedy
The Birth of Tragedy
The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music is a 19th-century work of dramatic theory by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It was reissued in 1886 as The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and Pessimism ...

. Nietzsche claimed that Greek tragedy had the function of the redemption of man from the terrors of mortal life. The exploration of novel topics in modern art ceased to be Rothko’s goal; from this point on, his art would bear the ultimate aim of relieving modern man’s spiritual emptiness. He believed that this "emptiness" was created partly by the lack of a mythology, which could, as described by Nietzsche,"[address]... the growth of a child’s mind and – to a mature man his life and struggles".

Rothko believed that his art could free the unconscious energies previously liberated by mythological images, symbols, and rituals. He considered himself a "mythmaker," and proclaimed "the exhilarated tragic experience, is for me the only source of art."

Many of his paintings of this period contrast barbaric scenes of violence with those of civilized passivity, with imagery drawn primarily from Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

Oresteia trilogy
The Oresteia
The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus which concerns the end of the curse on the House of Atreus. When originally performed it was accompanied by Proteus, a satyr play that would have been performed following the trilogy; it has not survived...

. In his 1942 painting, The Omen of the Eagle, the archetypal images of, in Rothko’s words, "man, bird, beast and tree ... merge into a single tragic idea." The bird, an eagle, was not without contemporary historical relevance, as both the United States and Germany (in its claim to inheritance of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

) used the eagle as a national symbol. Rothko’s cross-cultural, trans-historical reading of myth perfectly addresses the psychological and emotional roots of the symbol, making it universally available to anyone who might wish to see it. A list of the titles of the paintings from this period is illustrative of Rothko’s use of myth: Antigone
Antigone
In Greek mythology, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. The name may be taken to mean "unbending", coming from "anti-" and "-gon / -gony" , but has also been suggested to mean "opposed to motherhood", "in place of a mother", or "anti-generative", based from the root...

, Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, Leda
Leda (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Leda was daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius, and wife of the king Tyndareus , of Sparta. Her myth gave rise to the popular motif in Renaissance and later art of Leda and the Swan...

, The Furies
Erinyes
In Greek mythology the Erinyes from Greek ἐρίνειν " pursue, persecute"--sometimes referred to as "infernal goddesses" -- were female chthonic deities of vengeance. A formulaic oath in the Iliad invokes them as "those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath"...

, Altar of Orpheus
Orpheus
Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music; his attempt to retrieve his wife from the underworld; and his death at the hands of those who...

. Judeo-Christian imagery is evoked: Gethsemane, The Last Supper, Rites of Lilith
Lilith
Lilith is a character in Jewish mythology, found earliest in the Babylonian Talmud, who is generally thought to be related to a class of female demons Līlīṯu in Mesopotamian texts. However, Lowell K. Handy notes, "Very little information has been found relating to the Akkadian and Babylonian view...

, as are Egyptian (Room in Karnak
Karnak
The Karnak Temple Complex—usually called Karnak—comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings, notably the Great Temple of Amun and a massive structure begun by Pharaoh Ramses II . Sacred Lake is part of the site as well. It is located near Luxor, some...

) and Syrian (The Syrian Bull). Soon after the war, Rothko felt his titles were limiting the larger, transcendent aims of his paintings, and so removed them altogether.

"Mythomorphic" Abstractionism


At the root of Rothko and Gottlieb’s presentation of archaic forms and symbols as subject matter illuminating modern existence had been the influence of Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members....

, Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

, and abstract art
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

. In 1936, Rothko attended two exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, "Cubism and Abstract Art," and "Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism," which greatly influenced his celebrated 1938 Subway Scene.

In 1942, following the success of shows by Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst was one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism.-Early life:...

, Miró
Joan Miró
Joan Miró i Ferrà was a Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona.Earning international acclaim, his work has been interpreted as Surrealism, a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Catalan pride...

, Tanguy
Yves Tanguy
Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy , known as Yves Tanguy, was a French surrealist painter.-Biography:Tanguy was born in Paris, France, the son of a retired navy captain. His parents were both of Breton origin...

, and Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech, Marquis de Púbol , commonly known as Salvador Dalí , was a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueres,Spain....

, who had immigrated to the United States because of the war, Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members....

 took New York by storm. Rothko and his peers, Gottlieb
Adolph Gottlieb
Adolph Gottlieb was an American abstract expressionist painter, sculptor and graphic artist.-Biography:Gottlieb was born in New York to Jewish parents. From 1920-1921 he studied at the Art Students League of New York, after which he traveled in France and Germany for a year...

 and Newman
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters.-Early life:...

, met and discussed the art and ideas of these European pioneers, especially those of Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Pieter Cornelis "Piet" Mondriaan, after 1906 Mondrian , was a Dutch painter.He was an important contributor to the De Stijl art movement and group, which was founded by Theo van Doesburg. He evolved a non-representational form which he termed Neo-Plasticism...

. They began to regard themselves as heirs to the European avant-garde.

With mythic form as a catalyst, they would merge the two European styles of Surrealism and abstraction. As a result, Rothko’s work became increasingly abstract; perhaps ironically, Rothko himself described the process as being one toward "clarity."

New paintings were unveiled at a 1942 show at Macy’s department store in New York City. In response to a negative review by the New York Times, Rothko and Gottlieb issued a manifesto (written mainly by Rothko) which stated, in response to the Times critic’s self-professed "befuddlement" over the new work,
Rothko's vision of myth as a replenishing resource for an era of spiritual void had been set in motion decades before, by his reading of Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

, T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

, James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

 and Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

, among others. Unlike his predecessors, Rothko would, in his later period, develop his philosophy of the tragic ideal into the realm of pure abstraction. He thereby questioned the possibility for mankind to transform a cradle of imagery into a new set of images, no longer dependent on tribal, archaic, and religious mythologies – the very symbols Rothko had utilized and struggled with during his middle period.

Break with Surrealism


On June 13, 1943, Rothko and Sachar separated again. Rothko suffered a long depression following their divorce. Thinking that a change of scenery might help, Rothko returned to Portland. From there he traveled to Berkeley, where he met artist Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still was an American painter, and one of the leading figures of Abstract Expressionism.-Biography:...

, and the two began a close friendship. Still’s deeply abstract paintings would be of considerable influence on Rothko’s later works. In the autumn of 1943, Rothko returned to New York, where he met noted collector Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Marguerite "Peggy" Guggenheim was an American art collector. Born to a wealthy New York City family, she was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, who went down with the Titanic in 1912 and the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, who would establish the Solomon R...

. Her assistant, Howard Putzel, convinced Guggenheim to show Rothko in her The Art of This Century Gallery
The Art of This Century Gallery
The Art of This Century gallery was opened by Peggy Guggenheim at 30 W. 57th Street in New York City on October 20, 1942. The gallery occupied two commercial spaces on the seventh floor of a building that was part of the midtown arts district including the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of...

. Rothko’s one-man show at Guggenheim's gallery, in late 1945, resulted in few sales (prices ranging from $150 to $750), and in less-than-favorable reviews. During this period, Rothko had been stimulated by Still’s abstract landscapes of color, and his style shifted away from surrealism. Rothko's experiments in interpreting the unconscious symbolism of everyday forms had run their course. His future lay with abstraction:
Rothko's 1945 masterpiece, "Slow Swirl at Edge of Sea" illustrates his newfound propensity towards abstraction. Sometimes it is interpreted as a meditation on Rothko’s courtship of his second wife, Mary Ellen Beistle, whom he met in 1944 and married in the spring of 1945. The painting presents two humanlike forms embraced in a swirling, floating atmosphere of shapes and colors, in subtle grays and browns. The rigid rectangular background foreshadows Rothko’s later experiments in pure color. The painting was completed, not coincidentally, in the year the Second World War ended.

Despite the abandonment of his "Mythomorphic Abstractionism" (as described by ARTnews
ARTnews
ARTnews is an arts magazine based in New York, founded by James Clarence Hyde in 1902 as Hyde’s Weekly Art News. It is published 11 times a year.ARTnews covers all art, from ancient to Post-modernism...

), Rothko would still be recognized by the public primarily for his "Surrealist" works, for the remainder of the 1940s. The Whitney Museum included them in their annual exhibit of Contemporary Art from 1943 to 1950.

Rothko's "multiforms"


The year 1946 saw the creation of Rothko’s transitional "multiform" paintings. The term "multiform" has been applied by art critics; this word was never used by Rothko himself, yet it is an accurate description of these paintings. Several of them, including No. 18 (1948) and Untitled (also 1948), are masterpieces in their own right. Rothko himself described these paintings as possessing a more organic structure, and as self-contained units of human expression. For Rothko, these blurred blocks of various colors, devoid of landscape or human figure, let alone myth and symbol, possessed their own life force. They contained a "breath of life" he found lacking in most figurative painting of the era. This new form seemed filled with possibility, whereas his experimentation with mythological symbolism had become a tired formula, in much the same way as he viewed his late 1930s experiments in urban settings. The "multiforms" brought Rothko to a realization of his mature, signature style, and was the only style Rothko would never fully abandon prior to his death.

Rothko, in the middle of a crucial period of transition, had been impressed by Clyfford Still’s abstract fields of color, which were influenced in part by the landscapes of Still’s native North Dakota. In 1947, during a summer semester teaching at the California School of Fine Art, Rothko and Still flirted with the idea of founding their own curriculum, and they realized the idea in New York in the following year. Named "The Subjects of the Artists School," they employed David Hare
David Hare (artist)
David Hare was an American artist, associated with the Surrealist movement. He is primarily known for his sculpture, though he also worked extensively in photography and painting.-Life and work:...

 and Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell American painter, printmaker and editor. He was one of the youngest of the New York School , which also included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Philip Guston....

, among others. Though the group was short-lived and separated later in the same year, the school was the center of a flurry of activity in contemporary art. In addition to his teaching experience, Rothko began to contribute articles to two new art publications, "Tiger’s Eye" and "Possibilities". Using the forums as an opportunity to assess the current art scene, Rothko also discussed in detail his own artwork and philosophy of art. These articles reflect the elimination of figurative elements from his work. He described his new method as "unknown adventures in an unknown space," free from "direct association with any particular, and the passion of organism."

In 1949, Rothko became fascinated by Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter...

’s Red Studio, acquired by the Museum of Modern Art that year. He later credited it as a key source of inspiration for his later abstract paintings.

Late period


Soon, the "multiforms" developed into the signature style; by early 1949 Rothko exhibited these new works at the Betty Parsons
Betty Parsons
Betty Parsons, born Betty Bierne Pierson, was an American artist and art dealer known for her early promotion of Abstract Expressionism. She was known as "the den mother of Abstract Expressionism"...

 Gallery. For critic Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg was an American writer, educator, philosopher and art critic. He coined the term Action Painting in 1952 for what was later to be known as abstract expressionism. The term was first employed in Rosenberg's essay "American Action Painters" published in the December 1952 issue of...

, the paintings were nothing short of a revelation. Rothko had, after painting his first "multiform," secluded himself to his home in East Hampton
East Hampton (town), New York
The Town of East Hampton is located in southeastern Suffolk County, New York, at the eastern end of the South Shore of Long Island. It is the easternmost town in the state of New York...

 on Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

. He invited only a select few, including Rosenberg, to view the new paintings. The discovery of his definitive form came at a period of great distress to the artist; his mother Kate died in October 1948. It was at some point during that winter that Rothko happened upon the use of symmetrical rectangular blocks of two to three opposing or contrasting, yet complementary, colors, in which, for example, "the rectangles sometimes seem barely to coalesce out of the ground, concentrations of its substance. The green bar in "Magenta, Black, Green on Orange", on the other hand, appears to vibrate against the orange around it, creating an optical flicker." Additionally, for the next seven years, Rothko painted in oil only on large canvases with vertical formats. Very large-scale designs were used in order to overwhelm the viewer, or, in Rothko’s words, to make the viewer feel "enveloped within" the painting. For some critics, the large size was an attempt to make up for a lack of substance. In retaliation, Rothko stated:
He even went so far as to recommend that a viewer position themselves as little as 18 inches away from the canvas so that the viewer might experience a sense of intimacy, as well as awe, a transcendence of the individual, and a sense of the unknown.

As Rothko achieved success, he became increasingly protective of his works, turning down several potentially important sales and exhibition opportunities.
Again, Rothko’s aims, in some critics’ and viewers’ estimation, exceeded his methods. Many of the abstract expressionists exhibited pretensions for something approximating a spiritual
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

 experience, or at least an experience that exceeded the boundaries of the purely aesthetic. In later years, Rothko emphasized the spiritual aspect of his artwork, a sentiment that would culminate in the construction of the Rothko Chapel
Rothko Chapel
The Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas founded by John and Dominique de Menil. The interior serves not only as a chapel, but also as a major work of modern art. On its walls are fourteen black but color hued paintings by Mark Rothko...

.

Many of the "multiforms" and early signature paintings display an affinity for bright, vibrant colors, particularly reds and yellows, expressing energy and ecstasy. By the mid 1950’s however, close to a decade after the completion of the first "multiforms," Rothko began to employ dark blues and greens; for many critics of his work this shift in colors was representative of a growing darkness within Rothko’s personal life.

The general method for these paintings was to apply a thin layer of binder mixed with pigment directly onto uncoated and untreated canvas, and to paint significantly thinned oils directly onto this layer, creating a dense mixture of overlapping colors and shapes. His brush strokes were fast and light, a method he would continue to use until his death. His increasing adeptness at this method is apparent in the paintings completed for the Chapel. With a total lack of figurative representation, what drama there is to be found in a late Rothko is in the contrast of colors, radiating, as it were, against one another. His paintings can then be likened to a sort of fugal arrangement: each variation counterpoised against one another, yet all existing within one architectonic structure.

Rothko used several original techniques that he tried to keep secret even from his assistants. Electron microscopy and ultraviolet
Ultraviolet
Ultraviolet light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays, in the range 10 nm to 400 nm, and energies from 3 eV to 124 eV...

 analysis conducted by the MOLAB showed that he employed natural substances such as egg and glue, as well as artificial materials including acrylic resins
Acrylic resins
Acrylic resins are a group of related thermoplastic or thermosetting plastic substances derived from acrylic acid, methacrylic acid or other related compounds. Polymethyl acrylate is an acrylic resin used in an emulsed form for lacquer, textile finishes, adhesives and, mixed with clay, to gloss paper...

, phenol formaldehyde, modified alkyd
Alkyd
An alkyd is a polyester modified by the addition of fatty acids and other components. They are derived from polyols and a dicarboxylic acid or carboxylic acid anhydride. The term alkyd is a modification of the original name "alcid", reflecting the fact that they are derived from alcohol and...

, and others. One of his objectives was to make the various layers of the painting dry quickly, without mixing of colors, such that he could soon create new layers on top of the earlier ones.

European travels


Rothko and his wife visited Europe for five months in early 1950. The last time he had been in Europe was during his childhood in Latvia, at that time part of Russia. Yet he did not return to his motherland, preferring to visit the important museums of England, France and Italy. He much admired European art, and he visited the major museums of Paris. Besides viewing many paintings, the architecture and the music of Europe left a deep impression on Rothko. The fresco
Fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

es of Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico , born Guido di Pietro, was an Early Italian Renaissance painter described by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists as having "a rare and perfect talent"...

 in the monastery of San Marco
San Marco
San Marco is one of the six sestieri of Venice, lying in the heart of the city. San Marco also includes the island of San Giorgio Maggiore...

 at Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 most impressed him. Angelico’s intimately bright tempera frescoes magnificently contrast with the grandeur and monastic serenity of the surrounding architecture. Certainly the spirituality and concentration on light appealed to Rothko’s sensibilities, as did Angelico’s economic circumstances, which Rothko saw as similar to his own, having always been forced to struggle to exist as an artist.

Of Angelico, Rothko stated "As an artist you have to be a thief and steal a place for yourself on the rich man’s wall." He felt he was still struggling, despite some promising developments, including the sale of a painting for one thousand dollars to Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III
Blanchette Ferry Rockefeller
Blanchette Ferry Hooker Rockefeller was born Blanchette Ferry Hooker in New York City. She was the daughter of Elon Huntington Hooker, founder of Hooker Electrochemical Company, and his wife, Blanche Ferry....

 and the purchase of "Number 10" (1950) for the Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

.

Rothko had one-man shows at the Betty Parsons
Betty Parsons
Betty Parsons, born Betty Bierne Pierson, was an American artist and art dealer known for her early promotion of Abstract Expressionism. She was known as "the den mother of Abstract Expressionism"...

 Gallery in 1950 and 1951, and at other galleries across the world, including Japan, São Paulo
São Paulo
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the largest city in the southern hemisphere and South America, and the world's seventh largest city by population. The metropolis is anchor to the São Paulo metropolitan area, ranked as the second-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas and among...

 and Amsterdam
Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

. The 1952 "Fifteen Americans" show curated by Dorothy Canning Miller
Dorothy Canning Miller
Dorothy Canning Miller was an American art curator and one of the most influential people in American modern art for more than half of the 20th century...

 at the Museum of Modern Art formally heralded the abstract artists, including works by Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Paul Jackson Pollock , known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. He had a volatile personality, and...

 and William Baziotes
William Baziotes
William Baziotes was an American painter influenced by Surrealism and was a contributor to Abstract Expressionism.-Life and career:...

. It also created a dispute between Rothko and Barnett Newman, after Newman accused Rothko of having attempted to exclude him from the show. Growing success as a group led to infighting, and claims to supremacy and leadership. When "Fortune" magazine named a Rothko painting as a good investment, Newman and Still, out of jealousy, branded him a sell-out, secretly possessing bourgeois aspirations. Still wrote to Rothko to request the paintings he had given Rothko over the years. Rothko was deeply depressed by his former friends’ jealousy.

During the 1950 Europe trip, Rothko's wife became pregnant. On December 30, when they were back in New York, she gave birth to a daughter, Kathy Lynn, called "Kate" in honor of Rothko’s mother.

Reactions to his own increasing success


Shortly thereafter, due to the Fortune magazine plug and further purchases by clients, Rothko’s financial situation began to improve. In addition to sales of paintings, he also had money from his teaching position at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College is a senior college of the City University of New York, located in Brooklyn, New York, United States.Established in 1930 by the New York City Board of Higher Education, the College had its beginnings as the Downtown Brooklyn branches of Hunter College and the City College of New...

. In 1954, he exhibited in a solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of America's largest accredited independent schools of art and design, located in the Loop in Chicago, Illinois. It is associated with the museum of the same name, and "The Art Institute of Chicago" or "Chicago Art Institute" often refers to either...

, where he met art dealer Sidney Janis
Sidney Janis
Sidney Janis was a wealthy clothing manufacturer and art collector who opened an art gallery in New York in 1948. His gallery quickly gained prominence, for he not only exhibited the work of most of the emerging leaders of Abstract Expressionism, but also that of such important European artists as...

, who represented Pollock and Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Jozef Kline was an American painter mainly associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement centered around New York in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and attended Girard College, an academy in Philadelphia for fatherless boys...

. Their relationship proved mutually beneficial.

Despite his fame, Rothko felt a growing personal seclusion, and a sense of being misunderstood as an artist. He feared that people purchased his paintings simply out of fashion, and that the true purpose of his work was not being grasped by collectors, audiences or critics. He wanted his paintings to move beyond abstraction, as well as beyond classical art. For Rothko, the paintings were objects that possessed their own form and potential, and therefore, must be encountered as such. Sensing the futility of words in describing this decidedly non-verbal aspect of his work, Rothko abandoned all attempts at responding to those that might inquire after its meaning and purpose, stating finally that silence is "so accurate." His paintings’ "surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions. Between these two poles you can find everything I want to say."

He began to insist that he was not an abstractionist, and that such a description was as inaccurate as labeling him a great colorist. His interest was:
For Rothko, color is "merely an instrument." The "multiforms" and the signature paintings are, in essence, the same expression of "basic human emotions," as his surrealistic mythological paintings, albeit in a more pure form. What is common among these stylistic innovations is a concern for "tragedy, ecstasy and doom." Rothko’s comment on viewers breaking down in tears before his paintings that may have convinced the De Menils
Dominique de Menil
Dominique de Menil was a French-American art collector, philanthropist, founder of the Menil Collection and an heiress to the Schlumberger Limited oil-equipment fortune...

 to construct the Rothko Chapel. Whatever Rothko’s feeling about the audience or the critical establishment’s interpretation of his work, it is apparent that, by 1958, the spiritual expression he meant to portray on canvas was growing increasingly dark. His bright reds, yellows and oranges were subtly transformed into dark blues, greens, grays and blacks.

Seagram Murals / Four Seasons Restaurant artistic commission


In 1958, Rothko was awarded the first of two major mural commissions that proved both rewarding and frustrating. The beverage company Joseph Seagram and Sons
Seagram
The Seagram Company Ltd. was a large corporation headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada that was the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world. Toward the end of its independent existence it also controlled various entertainment and other business ventures...

 had recently completed their new building on Park Avenue, designed by architects Mies Van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a German architect. He is commonly referred to and addressed as Mies, his surname....

 and Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson
Philip Cortelyou Johnson was an influential American architect.In 1930, he founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and later , as a trustee, he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal and the first Pritzker Architecture...

. Rothko agreed to provide paintings for the building’s new luxury restaurant, The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons Restaurant
The Four Seasons is a restaurant in New York City located at 99 East 52nd Street , in the Seagram Building.Opened in 1959, the Four Seasons is associated with a number of milestone firsts in the hospitality industry. The Four Seasons is credited with introducing the idea of seasonally-changing...

.

For Rothko, this commission presented a new challenge for it was the first time he was required not only to design a coordinated series of paintings, but to produce an artwork space concept for a large, specific interior. Over the following three months, Rothko completed forty paintings, three full series in dark red and brown. He altered his horizontal format to vertical to complement the restaurant’s vertical features: columns, walls, doors and windows.

The following June, Rothko and his family again traveled to Europe. While on the SS Independence
SS Independence
SS Independence was an ocean liner built in 1951 for American Export Lines. Between 1974 and 1982 she sailed as Oceanic Independence for Atlantic Far East Lines and American Hawaii Cruises, after which she reverted to her original name...

 he disclosed to John Fischer
John Fischer
- Musicians :* John Fischer , Belgian/American jazz pianist, composer electronic painter and sculptor born in 1930* John Fischer , singer/songwriter who is one of the credited founders of Jesus music and Senior Writer with PurposeDrivenLife.com* John Fischer, co-founder of the hard rock band Full...

, publisher of Harper's
Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

, that his true intention for the Seagram murals was to paint "something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won’t. People can stand anything these days."

While in Europe, the Rothkos traveled to Rome, Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 and Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

. In Florence, he visited the library at San Lorenzo, to see first-hand the library’s Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

 room, from which he drew further inspiration for the murals. He remarked that the "room had exactly the feeling that I wanted [...] it gives the visitor the feeling of being caught in a room with the doors and windows walled-in shut." Following the trip to Italy, the Rothkos voyaged to Paris, Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, Antwerp and Amsterdam
Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

, before returning to the United States.

Once back in New York, Rothko and wife Mell visited the near-completed Four Seasons restaurant. Upset with the restaurant’s dining atmosphere, which he considered pretentious and inappropriate for the display of his works, Rothko immediately refused to continue the project, and returned the commission cash advance to the Seagram and Sons Company. Seagram had intended to honor Rothko's emergence to prominence through his selection, and his breach of contract and public expression of outrage were unexpected.

Rothko kept the commissioned paintings in storage until 1968. Given that Rothko had known in advance about the luxury decor of the restaurant and the social class of its future patrons, the exact motives for his abrupt repudiation remain mysterious. Rothko never fully explained his conflicted emotions over the incident, which exemplified his temperamental personality. The final series of Seagram Murals was dispersed and now hangs in three locations: London’s Tate Modern
Tate Modern
Tate Modern is a modern art gallery located in London, England. It is Britain's national gallery of international modern art and forms part of the Tate group . It is the most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year...

, Japan’s Kawamura Memorial Museum and the National Gallery of Art
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden is a national art museum, located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, in Washington, DC...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....


Rising prominence in the United States



Rothko’s first completed space was created in the Phillips Collection
Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection is an art museum founded by Duncan Phillips in 1921 as the Phillips Memorial Gallery located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Phillips was the grandson of James H...

 in Washington, D.C., following the purchase of four paintings by collector Duncan Phillips
Duncan Phillips (art collector)
Duncan Phillips was a Washington, DC, based art collector and critic who played a seminal role in introducing America to modern art. The grandson of James H. Laughlin, a banker and co-founder of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, Phillips was born in Pittsburgh and moved with his family to...

. Rothko’s fame and wealth had substantially increased; his paintings began to sell to notable collectors, including the Rockefellers. In January 1961, Rothko sat next to Joseph Kennedy at John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

’s inaugural ball. Later that year, a retrospective of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, to considerable commercial and critical success. In spite of this newfound notoriety, the art world had already turned its attention from the now passé abstract expressionists to the "next big thing", Pop Art
Pop art
Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop art challenged tradition by asserting that an artist's use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art...

, particularly the work of Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andrew Warhola , known as Andy Warhol, was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art...

, Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein was a prominent American pop artist. During the 1960s his paintings were exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City and along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and others he became a leading figure in the new art movement...

, and Rosenquist
James Rosenquist
James Rosenquist is an American artist and one of the protagonists in the pop-art movement.-Background and education:...

.

Rothko labeled Pop-Art artists "charlatans and young opportunists", and wondered aloud during a 1962 exhibition of Pop Art, "are the young artists plotting to kill us all?" On viewing Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns, Jr. is an American contemporary artist who works primarily in painting and printmaking.-Life:Born in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns spent his early life in Allendale, South Carolina with his paternal grandparents after his parents' marriage failed...

' flags, Rothko said, "we worked for years to get rid of all that." It was not that Rothko could not accept being replaced, so much as an inability to accept what was replacing him: he found it vapid.

Rothko received a second mural commission project, this time a wall of paintings for the penthouse of Harvard University’s Holyoke Center. He made twenty-two sketches, from which six murals were completed and only five were installed. Harvard President Nathan Pusey, following an explanation of the religious symbology of the Triptych
Triptych
A triptych , from tri-= "three" + ptysso= "to fold") is a work of art which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works...

, had the paintings hung in January 1963, and later shown at the Guggenheim
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is a well-known museum located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States. It is the permanent home to a renowned collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions...

. During installation, Rothko found the paintings to be compromised by the room’s lighting. Despite the installation of fiberglass shades, the paintings were removed in the late 1970s and, due to the fugitive nature of some of the red pigments, were placed in dark storage and only displayed periodically.

On August 31, 1963, Mell gave birth to a second child, Christopher. That autumn, Rothko signed with the Marlborough Gallery for sales of his work outside the United States. Stateside, he continued to sell the artwork directly from his studio. Bernard Reis, Rothko’s financial advisor, was also, unbeknownst to the artist, the Gallery’s accountant and, together with his co-workers, were later responsible for one of art history’s largest scandals.

The Rothko Chapel


The Rothko Chapel
Rothko Chapel
The Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas founded by John and Dominique de Menil. The interior serves not only as a chapel, but also as a major work of modern art. On its walls are fourteen black but color hued paintings by Mark Rothko...

 is located adjacent to the Menil Collection
Menil Collection
The Menil Collection, located in Houston refers either to a museum that houses the private art collection of founders John de Menil and Dominique de Menil, or to the collection itself...

 and The University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas
Houston, Texas
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of . Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of , which is the ...

. The building is small and windowless. It is a geometric, "postmodern" structure, located in a turn-of-the-century middle-class Houston neighborhood. The Chapel, the Menil Collection, and the nearby Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly
Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombly, Jr. was an American artist well known for his large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings, on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors...

 gallery were funded by Texas oil millionaires John and Dominique de Menil
Dominique de Menil
Dominique de Menil was a French-American art collector, philanthropist, founder of the Menil Collection and an heiress to the Schlumberger Limited oil-equipment fortune...

.

In 1964, Rothko moved into his last New York studio at 157 East 69th Street, equipping the studio with pulleys carrying large walls of canvas material to regulate light from a central cupola, to simulate lighting he planned for the Rothko Chapel. Despite warnings about the difference in light between New York and Texas, Rothko persisted with the experiment, setting to work on the canvases. Rothko told friends he intended the Chapel to be his single most important artistic statement. He became considerably involved in the layout of the building, insisting that it feature a central cupola like that of his studio. Architect Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson
Philip Cortelyou Johnson was an influential American architect.In 1930, he founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and later , as a trustee, he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal and the first Pritzker Architecture...

, unable to compromise with Rothko’s vision, left the project in 1967, and was replaced with Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry. The architects frequently flew to New York to consult, and on one occasion brought with them a miniature of the building for Rothko's approval.

For Rothko, the Chapel was to be a destination, a place of pilgrimage far from the center of art (in this case, New York) where seekers of Rothko’s newly "religious" artwork could journey. Initially, the Chapel, now non-denominational, was to be specifically Roman Catholic, and during the first three years of the project (1964–67) Rothko believed it would remain so. Thus Rothko’s design of the building and the religious implications of the paintings were inspired by Roman Catholic art and architecture. Its octagonal shape is based on the Byzantine
Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 church of St. Maria Assunta, and the format of the triptychs is based on paintings of the Crucifixion
Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

. The De Menils believed the universal "spiritual" aspect of Rothko’s work would complement the elements of Roman Catholicism.

Rothko’s painting technique required considerable physical stamina that the ailing artist was no longer able to muster. To create the paintings he envisioned, Rothko was forced to hire two assistants to apply the chestnut-brown paint in quick strokes of several layers: "brick reds, deep reds, black mauves." On half of the works, Rothko applied none of the paint himself, and was for the most part content to supervise the slow, arduous process. He felt the completion of the paintings to be "torment" and the inevitable result was to create "something you don’t want to look at."

The Chapel is the culmination of six years of Rothko’s life and represents his gradually growing concern for the transcendent. For some, to witness these paintings is to submit one’s self to a spiritual experience, which, through its transcendence of subject matter, approximates that of consciousness itself. It forces one to approach the limits of experience and awakens one to the awareness of one’s own existence. For others, the Chapel houses 14 large paintings whose dark, nearly impenetrable surfaces represent hermeticism and contemplation.

The Chapel paintings consist of a monochrome triptych in soft brown on the central wall (three 5-by-15-foot panels), and a pair of triptychs on the left and right made of opaque black rectangles. Between the triptychs are four individual paintings (11 by 15 feet each), and one additional individual painting faces the central triptych from the opposite wall. The effect is to surround the viewer with massive, imposing visions of darkness. Despite its basis in religious symbolism (the triptych) and less-than-subtle imagery (the crucifixion), the paintings are difficult to attach specifically to traditional Christian symbolism, and may act on the viewers subliminally. Active spiritual or aesthetic inquiry may be elicited from the viewer in the same way as a religious icon having specific symbolism. In this way, Rothko’s erasure of symbols both removes and creates barriers to the work.

As it turned out, these works would be his final artistic statement to the world. They were finally unveiled at the Chapel’s opening in 1971. Rothko never saw the completed Chapel and never installed the paintings. On February 28, 1971, at the dedication, Dominique De Menil said, "We are cluttered with images and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the divine," noting Rothko’s courage in painting what might be called "impenetrable fortresses" of color. The drama for many critics of Rothko’s work is the uneasy position of the paintings between, as Chase notes, "nothingness or vapidity" and "dignified ‘mute icons’ offering ‘the only kind of beauty we find acceptable today’."

Suicide and aftermath


In the spring of 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm
Aneurysm
An aneurysm or aneurism is a localized, blood-filled balloon-like bulge in the wall of a blood vessel. Aneurysms can commonly occur in arteries at the base of the brain and an aortic aneurysm occurs in the main artery carrying blood from the left ventricle of the heart...

 (defect in the arterial wall, that gradually leads to outpouching of the vessel and at times frank rupture). Ignoring doctor’s orders, Rothko continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet. However, he did follow the medical advice given not to paint pictures larger than a yard in height, and turned his attention to smaller, less physically strenuous formats, including acrylics on paper. Meanwhile, Rothko's marriage had become increasingly troubled, and his poor health and impotence resulting from the aneurysm compounded his feeling of estrangement in the relationship. Rothko and his wife Mell separated on New Year’s Day 1969, and he moved into his studio.

On February 25, 1970, Oliver Steindecker, Rothko’s assistant, found the artist in his kitchen, lying dead on the floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. He had sliced his arms with a razor found lying at his side. During autopsy it was discovered he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. He was 66 years old. The Seagram Murals arrived in London for display at the Tate Gallery on the very day of his suicide.
Shortly before his death, Rothko and his financial advisor, Bernard Reis, had created a foundation intended to fund "research and education" that would receive the bulk of Rothko’s work following his death. Reis later sold the paintings to the Marlborough Gallery at substantially reduced values, and then split the subsequent profits from sales to customers with Gallery representatives. In 1971, Rothko’s children filed a lawsuit against Reis, Morton Levine, and Theodore Stamos
Theodoros Stamos
Theodoros Stamos , was a Greek American artist. He is one of the youngest painters of the original group of abstract expressionist painters , which included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko...

, the executors of his estate, over the sham sales. The lawsuit continued for more than 10 years and became known as the Rothko Case
Rothko Case
The Rothko Case was the protracted legal dispute between Kate Rothko, the daughter of the painter Mark Rothko; the painter's estate executors; and the directors of his gallery, Marlborough Fine Art...

. In 1975, the defendants were found liable for negligence and conflict of interest, were removed as executors of the Rothko estate by court order, and, along with Marlborough Gallery, were required to pay a $9.2 million damages judgment to the estate. This amount represents merely a very small fraction of the eventual vast financial value achieved since then for collectors and exhibitors of the numerous Rothko works produced in his lifetime.

Rothko's remains were first buried in East Marion Cemetery on the North Fork of Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

, New York, in a plot belonging to Stamos, an artist who had been a friend of Rothko. Beginning in 2006, Rothko's children, Dr. Kate Rothko Prizel, and her brother, Christopher Rothko, sought to disinter Rothko's remains and reinter them, together with his wife's remains, in Sharon Gardens in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. In April 2008, Justice Arthur G. Pitts of the New York State Supreme Court agreed to permit the transfer of Rothko's remains. The plan was approved by Georgianna Savas, executor of the estate of Stamos.

Legacy


The complete life works on canvas of Mark Rothko, some 836 known to exist, have been individually catalogued by art historian David Anfam in Mark Rothko: the works on canvas : catalogue raisonné (Yale University Press).

The settlement of his estate became the subject of the Rothko Case
Rothko Case
The Rothko Case was the protracted legal dispute between Kate Rothko, the daughter of the painter Mark Rothko; the painter's estate executors; and the directors of his gallery, Marlborough Fine Art...

.

A previously unpublished manuscript by Rothko about his philosophies on art, The Artist's Reality, was edited by his son, Christopher Rothko, and was published by Yale University Press
Yale University Press
Yale University Press is a book publisher founded in 1908 by George Parmly Day. It became an official department of Yale University in 1961, but remains financially and operationally autonomous....

 in 2006.

Red
Red (play)
Red is a play by American writer John Logan about artist Mark Rothko first produced by the Donmar Warehouse, London in December 2009. The original production was directed by Michael Grandage and performed by Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his assistant Ken.The production, with its...

, a play based on Rothko, written by John Logan, opened at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on December 3, 2009. The one-act, 90 minute play centers around the period of development of the Seagram Murals. Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina is a British-born American actor. He first came to public attention in the UK for his supporting role in the 1987 film Prick Up Your Ears...

 played Rothko. It was directed by the Donmar's artistic director Michael Grandage
Michael Grandage
Michael Grandage CBE is a British theatre director and producer, and current Artistic Director at the Donmar Warehouse, London. Grandage won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for Red.-Early years:...

.

In March 2010, Red moved to the John Golden Theater http://www.newyorkcitytheatre.com/theaters/johngoldentheater/theater.php on Broadway in New York City with the same stars (Alfred Molina, Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne
Edward John David "Eddie" Redmayne is an English actor and model. Redmayne won the 2010 Tony Award as best featured actor in a play for his performance in Red.-Early life:...

) and director. The run opened officially on April 1, 2010 and, like the original London production, received generally favorable reviews. On June 13, 2010, it received six Tony awards, including Best Play. The run concluded on June 27, 2010.

The family collection of Mark Rothko works owned by Mark Rothko Estate has been represented by The Pace Gallery
Pace Gallery
The Pace Gallery is a New York City-based exhibition space. It was founded in 1960 in Boston by Arne Glimcher.-PaceWildenstein:From 1993 until April 1, 2010, the gallery became "PaceWildenstein," a joint business venture between the Pace Gallery and Wildenstein & Co....

, in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, since 1978.

In early November, 2005, Rothko's 1953 oil on canvas painting, Homage to Matisse, broke the record selling price of any post-war painting at a public auction, at US$ 22.5 million.

In May 2007, Rothko's 1950 painting White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)
White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)
White Center is an abstract painting by Mark Rothko completed in 1950.-2007 sale:The work was sold in May 2007 by Sotheby's on behalf of David Rockefeller to the Royal family of Qatar; Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and his wife, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned...

, broke this record again, selling at US$ 72.8 million at Sotheby's New York. The painting was sold by philanthropist David Rockefeller
David Rockefeller
David Rockefeller, Sr. is the current patriarch of the Rockefeller family. He is the youngest and only surviving child of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and the only surviving grandchild of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. His five siblings were...

, who attended the auction.

In May 2011, Christie's auctions sold a previously unknown Rothko painting, accounting for the work as #836. The work was added to the existing Rothko catalog of 835 works after expert authentication. The newly discovered painting Untitled, #17 created in 1961, came to light when a private collector put it up for sale, claiming he bought it directly from the artist. A seven foot tall oil on canvas in red and pink on an ochre background, the painting opened with a house bid at US$13 million and sold for US$30 million, plus sellers and buyers fees (US$33 million, all inclusive).

Sources

  • Chave, Anne. Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Breslin, J.E.B. Mark Rothko – A Biography, Chicago, London, University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Rothko, Mark (1999). "The Individual and the Social." In Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood (Eds.), Art in Theory 1900–1990 An Anthology of Changing Ideas (563–565). Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd.
  • Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey, (New York School Press, 2003.) ISBN 0-9677994-1-4. pp. 294–297

External links





Tate Modern
Tate Modern
Tate Modern is a modern art gallery located in London, England. It is Britain's national gallery of international modern art and forms part of the Tate group . It is the most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year...

 exhibition

Smithsonian Archives of American Art
Archives of American Art
The Archives of American Art is the largest collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. More than 16 million items of original material are housed in the Archives' research centers in Washington, D.C...