Mark Rothko

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Mark Rothko Introduction

This information is given to you courtesy of Wikipedia. Mark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz (Latvian: Marks Rotko; September 25, 1903–February 25, 1970), was a Latvian-born American painter and printmaker. He is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he himself rejected this label, and even resisted the classification as an "abstract painter". Fearing that his sons were about to be drafted into the Czarist army, Jacob Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko's father) decided to emigrate from Russia to the United States, following the path of many other Jews who left Daugavpils in the wake of Cossack purges, which had become more severe. These émigrés included two of Jacob's brothers, who managed to establish themselves as clothing manufacturers in Portland, Oregon, 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 twelve days at sea. Jacob's death a few months later left the family without economic support. (There are many books written about this subject....You can find them with Amazon search found at the bottom of this page! You can also find more of Rothko's work at All posters)

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 seventeen. 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. Typical among Jewish liberals, Rothko supported the Russian Revolution in principle, although this position may be described as decorative, in the sense that he was never politically engaged. He received a scholarship to Yale based on academic performance, but it has been suggested that Yale only made this offer in order to lure Rothko’s friend, Aaron Director, with a similar proposal. After one year, the scholarship ran out and Rothko took menial jobs to support his studies. Rothko found the "WASP" 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 forty-six years later. (You can find many of Rothko's works at All posters...Use the search box at the bottom of this page)

Hey folks....Time for a slideshow of books and posters inspired by Rothko!

Early Career

“ A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend the affliction universally! ” — Mark Rothko

In the autumn of 1923, Rothko found employment in the garment district and took up residence on the Upper West Side. It was while visiting a friend at the Art Students League of New York that he witnessed students sketching a model. According to Rothko, this was the beginning of his life as an artist. He was twenty years old and had taken some art classes in high school, but his initial experience was far from an immediate calling. Even his self-described "beginning" at the Art Students League of New York is not exactly accurate; two months after he returned to Portland to visit his family, he joined a theater group run by Clark Gable’s wife, Josephine Dillon. Whatever his theatrical ability may have been, he did not have the appearance typically associated with successful commercial actors, and professional acting seemed an improbable career. Returning to New York, Rothko enrolled in the New School of Design, where one of his instructors was the artist Arshile Gorky. 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, who was also a 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 portray a Weberian influence.

Rothko's Circle

Rothko’s move to New York established him in a fertile atmosphere for the experience of art from all cultures and periods. 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, and the paintings of Georges Rouault. In 1928, Rothko had his own showing with a group of 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, who, along with Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman, Louis Schanker, and John Graham, was part of a group of young artists surrounding the painter Milton Avery, 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. His own paintings, soon after meeting Avery, began to use similar subject matter and color, as in Rothko’s 1933/34 Bathers, or Beach Scene. Rothko, Gottlieb, Newman, Solman, Graham, and their mentor, Avery, spent considerable time together, vacationing at Lake George and Gloucester, Massachusetts, spending their days painting and their evenings discussing art. During a 1932 visit to Lake George, Rothko met Edith Sachar, a jewelry designer. The two maintained, at first, a close and mutually supportive relationship, and were married on November 12. The following summer, Rothko’s first one-man show was held at the Portland Art Museum, 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.[3] 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, unhampered by his lack of family support, Rothko had his first East Coast one-man show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery, showing 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 showed a master’s touch, and moved beyond the influence of Avery. In late 1935, Rothko joined with Ilya Bolotowsky, Ben-Zion, Adolph Gottlieb, Lou Harris, Ralph Rosenborg, Louis Schanker and Joseph Solman 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. This period can be read as a by-product of Rothko’s growing reputation among his peers, particularly the Artists Union. Begun in 1937, and including Gottlieb and Soloman, their 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 had a showing 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’s New Deal 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, Pollock, Reinhardt, David Smith, Louise Nevelson, 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." The modernist artist, like the child and the primitive by whom he is influenced, expresses an innate feeling for form that is, in the best and most universal work, expressed without mental interference. It is a physical and emotional, non-intellectual experience. 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 seemed to have had a revelation, which explains the progression of his later works toward mature, 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.


Rothko separated from his wife, Edith Sachar, in the summer of 1937, following Edith’s increased success in the jewelry business. Apparently,Mark Rothko did not enjoy working for his wife, and felt both threatened by, and envious of, her financial success. At this time Mark 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 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 antisemitism, 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

Inspiration from mythology Fearing that modern American painting had reached a conceptual dead end, Mark 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 and the Communist Party. For Mark Rothko, "without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama." Rothko’s use of mythology as a commentary on current history was by no means novel. Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman read and discussed the works of Freud and Jung, in particular their respective 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 and Frazer’s Golden Bough.

Books......Up close and personal!

Mark Rothko's Late Period

The Pictures are from the Rothko Chapel. It was not long before the "multiforms" developed into the signature style; by early 1949 Mark Rothko exhibited these new works at the Betty Parsons Gallery. For critic Harold Rosenberg, the paintings were nothing short of a revelation. Mark Rothko had, after painting his first "multiform," secluded himself to his home in East Hampton on Long Island. 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 Mark Rothko happened upon the striking symmetrical rectangular blocks of two to three opposing or contrasting, yet complementary, colors. Additionally, for the next seven years, Mark 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:

“ I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command! ”

He even went so far as to recommend that a viewer position themselves as little as 18 inches away from the canvas[4] 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. Again, Mark Rothko’s aims, in some critics’ and viewers’ estimation, exceeded his methods. Many of the abstract expressionists exhibited pretensions for something approximating a spiritual experience, or at least an experience that exceeded the boundaries of the purely aesthetic. In later years, Rothko would do much to promote this spiritual aspect of his artwork, a sentiment that would culminate in the construction of the Rothko Chapel. 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 before the completion of the first "multiforms," Mark 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 Mark 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. Mark Rothko used several original techniques that he tried to keep secret even from his assistants. Electron microscopy and ultraviolet analysis conducted by the MOLAB showed that he employed natural substances such as egg and glue, as well as artificial materials including acrylic resins, phenol formaldehyde, modified alkyd, 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.

Mark Rothko's Seagram Murals

Four Seasons Restaurant artistic commission. In 1958,Mark Rothko was awarded the first of two major mural commissions that proved both rewarding and frustrating. The beverage company Joseph Seagram and Sons had recently completed their new building on Park Avenue, designed by architects Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. Rothko agreed to provide paintings for the building’s new luxury restaurant, The Four Seasons. For Mark 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, Mark Rothko and his family again traveled to Europe. While on the SS Independence he disclosed to John Fischer, publisher of Harper's, 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, Venice and Pompeii. In Florence, he visited the library at San Lorenzo, to see first-hand the library’s Michelangelo 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, Antwerp and Amsterdam, before returning to the United States. Once back in New York, Mark 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 Mark 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. Mark 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 Britain, Japan’s Kawamura Memorial Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Rising prominence in the United States Rothko’s first completed space was created in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., following the purchase of four paintings by collector Duncan Phillips. Mark 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’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, particularly the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Rosenquist. 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' 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 valueless, though it received much admiration as collectors sold off their Rothkos, Newmans and Gottliebs and replaced them with Rauschenbergs, and staged retrospectives of artists then in their mid-twenties. 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 five murals were completed — a triptych and two wall paintings. Harvard President Nathan Pusey, following an explanation of the religious symbology of the Triptych, had the paintings hung in January 1963, and later shown at the Guggenheim. During installation, Mark Rothko found the paintings to be compromised by the room’s lighting. Despite the installation of fiberglass shades, the paintings were removed and, having been weakened by sunlight, were stored in a dark room. As with the Seagram Mural, the Harvard Mural would remain incomplete. On August 31, 1963, Mell gave birth to a second child, Christopher. That autumn, Mark 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, Mark 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.

Inspirational Posters....

Hi! Now you can find the poster of your dreams...It's fun! Just type in your favorite artist...then the link will take you to Allposters where you can choose from many by the artist...Then here comes the best part! You can then see it framed and on a wall in a variety of different settings...even in the bathroom! I think this is a great way to imagine what a painting will look like in your own home....Wonderful! Try it! J.M.Jamolod

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