Mark Rothko

Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz*  (*source Wikipedia) was born in 1903 in what is now Latvia to Jewish parents, he was the youngest of four children. His family emigrated to the US when he was ten and shortly afterwards his father died.  Rothko worked hard to put himself through college, he went to Yale but dropped out to pursue his artistic career.   He committed suicide on February 25, 1970 in New York.  Rothko was largely self-taught.  He is often labelled as one of the founders of abstract expressionism.

Born from an appreciation and subsequent rejection of the modern techniques of early 20th century Europe such as surrealism, cubism and Bauhaus, the term “abstract expressionism” was first used in the late 1920’s to describe the work of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. Subsequently it was used to encapsulate any non-objective artistic style of the time which evoked emotion and feeling using colour and movement.‘From

What can I say about MR that hasn’t already been said?  I first remember seeing a reproduction of one of Rothko’s paintings when I was at High School – that is a very long time ago.  His bold colourfield work was produced from the 40’s up until the mid 60’s. 

We are asked to look at the Seagram Murals, which was a commission he undertook for a restaurant in the Seagram building in New York.   He produced 40 works but shortly before they were to be installed, had a change of heart:  

However, before the opening he took a change of heart, and overcome by his socialist sensibilities, he returned his advance and claimed he could not continue to work where so many disgusting capitalists would be eating and spending money. He removed his works and hid them away in his studio. Today the collection has been broken up, with some in London’s Tate Modern, some in Japan’s Kawamura Memorial Museum, and others in The National Art Gallery in Washington DC.’   From

There are several videos extant on YouTube concentrating on the Seagram Murals.  One of the videos I found shows the Kawamura Memorial Museum display – or Rothko Room, which is apparently one of only four in the world.

In the book, ‘This is Modern Art’, author Matthew Collings, describes the Seagram Murals thus: 

‘He did some other really murky maroon ones for a restaurant in 1959 but then changed his mind and they went to the Tate Gallery in London instead.’ (pp 168-169)

I wouldn’t describe these paintings as murky, they are powerful imposing paintings that evoke all kinds of emotions in the viewer, if we have long enough to stand and stare at them, that is.  I think in order to absorb Rothko you have to be able to live with his work and look into it for a long time.

Mark Rothko – a work from Seagram murals

Rothko’s last works were the 14 dark canvasses he created for the Rothko Chapel in Texas.  I don’t believe he ever got to see them installed in the building, which he also designed.

Not much is ever shown of Rothko’s earlier more surrealist work, here are some of them:


Collings. M. (2000) This is Modern Art pp168-169

YouTube videos:


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