Occupation: Painter, sculptor
Movement: Abstract Expressionism
Mark Rothko's Famous Artworks
“No. 3 / No. 13 (Magenta, Black, Green on Orange,” 1949
“No. 61 (Rust and Blue),” 1953
“No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue,” 1954
“White Cloud,” 1956
“Four Darks in Red,” 1958
“Orange, Red, Yellow,” 1961
“Untitled (Black on Grey),” 1970
Mark Rothko, who was a Latvian-born Jewish-American
painter, was one of the most important proponents of mid-20th century abstract expressionism, despite his personal aversion to categorization. His work consistently moved towards the spiritual, something that the artist invited his audience to examine more deeply than the color relationship, which he was so well-known for.
Mark Rothko is known for his abstract paintings and sculptures
, often of floating rectangles rendered in thin layers of paint that allowed the color underneath to show, achieving a kind of sublime luminosity. His saturated canvases made Rothko one of the most distinctive new voices in American art during the 1940s.
Mark Rothko's Early Life
Born Marcus Rothkowitz in 1903 in Latvia, he was the son of a pharmacist who sent him to study at a Jewish elementary school. They were a reading family and he grew up to be a voracious reader. Rothko spoke Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. The family moved to the United States in 1913, amidst fears of the sons being drafted into the army before World War I. They arrived in Portland, Oregon, but Rothko’s father died within a few months of the family’s immigration. He did well in school in America, learned English, and was active as a member of the Jewish community. Along with his sister, he had to help out with the family’s economic situation, and so started working early in life. However, he was an excellent academic and received a scholarship to Yale University. He studied there for two years before dropping out, feeling suffocated by what he perceived was an elitist and racist community.
Mark Rothko's Early Years in New York
Rothko moved to New York in 1925 and joined the Art Students League, where he started to study painting. He studied under Max Weber, who was, against the fashion of American realist art, interested in modernism and European art, and shared his passion with his students. Weber helped Rothko see how art could share a bond with the emotional, the religious and the spiritual.
Mark Rothko met the American avant-garde when he joined the New York School of Design. He was a part of the Modernist circle
that was exhibiting increasingly in the galleries in the city. He wasn’t unsuccessful but had to begin teaching clay sculpture and painting at the Center Academy to keep afloat. He met the New York painters Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman and Milton Avery around this time. Rothko and Gottlieb together founded ‘The Ten.’ This group was inclined more towards Expressionism, and away from the abstract. His work from this period was figurative – portraits, figure studies, landscapes and still life – done in an expressionist style. This work found only limited success.
Mark Rothko's Development of Style
It was in the late 1940s that he started developing his abstract color field paintings that he has come to be known for. In these paintings, two or three luminous rectangles appear to float in a radiant and shallow color field. He was profoundly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s book ‘The Birth of Tragedy’. He wanted his art to address the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society. These new paintings were, for him, replete with potential, and he was tired of the mythological symbolism of his earlier work. These Mark Rothko ‘multiforms’
as they came to be known, were part of his mature style. While he had painted the earliest of these multi forms in bright vivid colors, a decade later this palette was replaced by dark greens and blues, perhaps a reflection of his increasingly disturbed personal life. In 1961, the Museum of Modern Art gave Rothko his first solo show, for which he refused to show anything done before 1945.
The Rothko Chapel
The Rothko Chapel, as it has come to be known, was commissioned by art collector couple Dominique and John de Menil. He wanted this work to be his masterpiece. He dedicated six years of his life to it and was compelled to hire assistants, as his health was no longer up to the physical strain his style demanded. It was an emotionally and spiritually draining episode for him. He went so far as to call the finishing of it a torment. Fourteen large-scale paintings arranged mainly in Triptych, Rothko considered this project the culmination of the spiritual side of his work. You can buy Mark Rothko's artworks online
Mark Rothko's death
Unknown to himself Rothko was perhaps bipolar and dealt with depression for most of his life. He committed suicide at the age of 66. Mark Rothko's paintings became much better known after his death.
Mark Rothko's Major Exhibitions
1928 - Opportunity Galleries, New York
1933 - Contemporary Arts Gallery, New York
1933 - Portland Art Museum
1949 - Neumann-Willard Gallery, New York
1946 - Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York
1951 - San Francisco Museum of Art
1951 - Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
1954 - Art Institute of Chicago
1958 - Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
1963 - Guggenheim Museum, New York
1972 - Hayward Gallery, London
1977 - Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Mantua
1981 - Pace Gallery, New York
1984 - National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
2008 - Tate Modern, London
Mark Rothko's Museums/Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Dallas Museum of Art
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
Tate Gallery, London
Neue Pinakothek, Munich
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
“Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade” by David Anfam and Harry Cooper
“The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art” by Mark Rothko and Christopher Rothko
“Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel” by Annie Cohen-Solal
“Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out” by Christopher Rothko
“Mark Rothko” by James E.B. Breslin