|Birth Day:||September 25, 1903|
|Death Date:||Feb 25, 1970 (age 66)|
Latvian-born American artist associated with Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting; known for 'Four Darks in Red.' Considered among the United States' most famous post-World War II artists along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
As per our current Database, Mark Rothko died on Feb 25, 1970 (age 66).
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He began working in New York's garment district in 1923. His passion for art was sparked after seeing students from the Art Students League of New York drawing a model.
Fearing that his elder sons were about to be drafted into the Imperial Russian Army, Jacob Rothkowitz emigrated from Russia to the United States. Markus remained in Russia with his mother and elder sister Sonia. They arrived as immigrants, at Ellis Island, in late 1913. From there, they crossed the country, to join Jacob and the elder brothers, in Portland, Oregon. Jacob's death, a few months later, of colon cancer, left the family without economic support. Sonia operated a cash register, while Markus worked in one of his uncle's warehouses, selling newspapers to employees. His father's death also led Rothko to sever his ties with religion. After he had mourned his father's death for almost a year at a local synagogue, he vowed never to set foot in one again.
Rothko started school in the United States in 1913, quickly accelerating from third to fifth grade. In June 1921, he completed the secondary level, with honors, at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, at age 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 issues such as workers' rights and contraception. At the time, Portland was a center of revolutionary activity in the U.S. and the region where the revolutionary syndicalist union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was strongest.
Rothko received a scholarship to Yale. At the end of his freshman year in 1922, the scholarship was not renewed, and he worked as a waiter and delivery boy to support his studies. He found Yale elitist and racist. Rothko and a friend, Aaron Director, started a satirical magazine, The Yale Saturday Evening Pest, that lampooned the school's stuffy, bourgeois tone. Rothko was more an autodidact than a diligent pupil: "One of his fellow students remembers that he hardly seemed to study, but that he was a voracious reader." At the end of his sophomore year, he dropped out, and did not return until he was awarded an honorary degree 46 years later.
In 1928, with a group of other young artists, Rothko exhibited works at the Opportunity Gallery. His paintings, including dark, moody, expressionist interiors and urban scenes, were generally well accepted among critics and peers. To supplement his income, in 1929 Rothko began instructing schoolchildren in drawing, painting and clay sculpture at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, where he remained active for over twenty years.
Returning to New York, Rothko had his first East Coast one-person show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery. He showed fifteen oil paintings, mostly portraits, along with some aquarelles and drawings. Among these works, the oil paintings especially captured the art critics' eyes. Rothko's use of rich fields of colors moved beyond Avery's influence. 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). According to a gallery show catalog, the mission of the group was "to protest against the reputed equivalence of American painting and literal painting."
Rothko was earning a growing reputation among his peers, particularly among the group that formed the Artists' Union. The Artists' Union, including Gottlieb and Solman, hoped to create a municipal art gallery, to show self-organized group exhibitions. In 1936, the group exhibited at the Galerie Bonaparte in France, which resulted in some positive critical attention. One reviewer remarked that Rothko's paintings "display authentic coloristic values." Later, in 1938, a show was held at the Mercury Gallery in New York, intended as a protest against the Whitney Museum of American Art, which the group regarded as having a provincial, regionalist agenda. Also during this period, Rothko, like Avery, Gorky, Pollock, de Kooning, and many others, found employment with the Works Progress Administration.
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: "Tradition of starting with drawing in academic notion We may start with color." Rothko was using fields of color in his aquarelles and city scenes. His style was already evolving in the direction of his renowned later works. Despite this newfound exploration of color, Rothko turned his attention to other formal and stylistic innovations, inaugurating a period of surrealist paintings influenced by mythological fables and symbols.
At the root of Rothko and Gottlieb's presentation of archaic forms and symbols, illuminating modern existence, had been the influence of Surrealism, Cubism, and abstract art. In 1936, Rothko attended two exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, "Cubism and Abstract Art", and "Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism".
Rothko separated temporarily from his wife Edith in mid-1937. They reconciled several months later, but 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. Concerned about anti-Semitism in America and Europe, Rothko in 1940 abbreviated his name from "Markus Rothkowitz" to "Mark Rothko". The name "Roth", a common abbreviation, was still identifiably Jewish, so he settled upon "Rothko."
Rothko's use of mythology as a commentary on current history was not novel. Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman read and discussed the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. In particular, they took interest in psychoanalytical theories concerning dreams, and archetypes of a collective unconscious. They understood mythological symbols as images, operating in a space of human consciousness, which transcends specific history and culture. Rothko later said that his artistic approach was "reformed" by his study of the "dramatic themes of myth". He allegedly stopped painting altogether in 1940, to immerse himself in reading Sir James Frazer's study of mythology The Golden Bough, and Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams.
In 1942, following the success of shows by Ernst, Miró, Wolfgang Paalen, Tanguy, and Salvador Dalí, artists who had immigrated to the United States because of the war, Surrealism took New York by storm. Rothko and his peers, Gottlieb and Newman, met and discussed the art and ideas of these European pioneers, as well as those of Mondrian.
On June 13, 1943, Rothko and Sachar separated again. Rothko suffered a 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, 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. He met with noted collector and art dealer Peggy Guggenheim, but she was initially reluctant to take on his artworks. Rothko's one-person show at Guggenheim's The Art of This Century Gallery, in late 1945, resulted in few sales, with prices ranging from $150 to $750. The exhibit also attracted less-than-favorable reviews from critics. 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 the Edge of the Sea, illustrates his newfound propensity towards abstraction. It has been interpreted as a meditation on Rothko's courtship of his second wife, Mary Ellen "Mell" Beistle, whom he met in 1944 and married in early 1945. Other readings have noted echoes of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, which Rothko saw at an "Italian Masters" loan exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1940. The painting presents, in subtle grays and browns, two human-like forms embraced in a swirling, floating atmosphere of shapes and colors. 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.
The year 1946 saw the creation of what art critics have termed Rothko's transitional "multiform" paintings. Rothko never used the term multiform himself, yet it is an accurate description of these paintings. Several of them, including No. 18 and Untitled (both 1948), are less transitional than fully realized. Rothko himself described these paintings as possessing a more organic structure, and as self-contained units of human expression. For him, these blurred blocks of various colors, devoid of landscape or the 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. They were filled with possibility, whereas his experimentation with mythological symbolism had become a tired formula. The "multiforms" brought Rothko to a realization of his signature style of rectangular regions of color, which he continued to produce for the rest of his life.
In the middle of this crucial period of transition, Rothko 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 this idea in New York in the following year. Named "The Subjects of the Artists School", they employed David Hare and Robert Motherwell, among others. Though the group 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 work and philosophy of art. These articles reflect the elimination of figurative elements from his painting, and a specific interest in the new contingency debate launched by Wolfgang Paalen's Form and Sense publication of 1945. Rothko described his new method as "unknown adventures in an unknown space", free from "direct association with any particular, and the passion of organism". Breslin described this change of attitude as "both self and painting are now fields of possibilities – an effect conveyed ... by the creation of protean, indeterminate shapes whose multiplicity is let be."
Fearing that modern American painting had reached a conceptual dead end, Rothko was intent upon exploring subjects other than urban and nature scenes. He sought subjects that would complement his growing interest with form, space, and color. The world crisis of war gave this search a sense of immediacy. He insisted that the new subject matter have a social impact, yet be able to transcend the confines of current political symbols and values. In his essay "The Romantics Were Prompted," published in 1948, 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 Rothko, "without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama".
Soon, the "multiforms" developed into the signature style; by early 1949 Rothko exhibited these new works at the Betty Parsons Gallery. For critic Harold Rosenberg, the paintings were nothing short of a revelation. After painting his first "multiform", Rothko had 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 had died in October 1948. 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:
In 1949, Rothko became fascinated by Henri Matisse's Red Studio, acquired by the Museum of Modern Art that year. He later credited it as another key source of inspiration for his later abstract paintings.
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 homeland, preferring to visit the important painting collections in the major museums of England, France and Italy. The frescoes of Fra Angelico in the monastery of San Marco, Florence, most impressed him. Fra Angelico's spirituality and concentration on light appealed to Rothko's sensibilities, as did the economic adversities the artist faced, which Rothko saw as similar to his own.
Rothko had one-man shows at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950 and 1951 and at other galleries across the world, including in Japan, São Paulo and Amsterdam. The 1952 "Fifteen Americans" show curated by Dorothy Canning Miller at the Museum of Modern Art formally heralded the abstract artists and included works by Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes. 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 was leading to infighting and claims to supremacy and leadership. When Fortune magazine named a Rothko painting in 1955 as a good investment, Newman and Clyfford Still branded him a sell-out with bourgeois aspirations. Still wrote to Rothko to ask that the paintings he had given him over the years be returned. 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.
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. In 1954, he exhibited in a solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met art dealer Sidney Janis, who represented Pollock and Franz Kline. Their relationship proved mutually beneficial.
In November 1958, Rothko gave an address to the Pratt Institute. In a tenor unusual for him, he discussed art as a trade and offered the "recipe of a work of art—its ingredients—how to make it—the formula.
In 1958, Rothko was awarded the first of two major mural commissions, which proved both rewarding and frustrating. The beverage company Joseph Seagram and Sons had recently completed the new Seagram Building skyscraper 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. This was, as art historian Simon Schama put it, "bring[ing] his monumental dramas right into the belly of the beast".
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. Rothko's fame and wealth had substantially increased; his paintings began to sell to notable collectors, including the Rockefeller family. 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 fame, 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.
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. In New York, 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, was later responsible for one of art history's largest scandals.
Rothko received a second mural commission project, this time for a room of paintings for the penthouse of Harvard University's Holyoke Center. He made twenty-two sketches, from which ten wall-sized paintings on canvas were painted, six were brought to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and only five were hung: a triptych on one wall and opposite two individual panels. His aim was to create an environment for a public place. 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, Rothko found the paintings to be compromised by the room's lighting. Despite the installation of fiberglass shades, the paintings were all removed by 1979 and, due to the fugitive nature of some of the red pigments, in particular lithol red, were placed in dark storage and displayed only periodically. The murals were on display from November 16, 2014, to July 26, 2015, in the newly renovated Harvard Art Museums, for which the fading of the pigments has been compensated by using an innovative color projection system to illuminate the paintings.
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, unable to compromise with Rothko's vision about the kind of light he wanted in the space, 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.
Art collector Richard Feigen said that he sold a red Rothko painting to the National Gallery of Berlin for $22,000 in 1967.
In early 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm. Ignoring doctor's orders, Rothko continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet. "Highly nervous, thin, restless", was his friend Dore Ashton's description of Rothko at this time. 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 (1921–1970) 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 lying dead on the kitchen floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. He had overdosed on barbiturates and cut an artery in his right arm with a razor blade. There was no suicide note. He was 66. The Seagram Murals arrived in London for display at the Tate Gallery on the day of his suicide.
Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton's first date was to a Rothko exhibit at the Yale University Art Gallery in 1970.
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'".
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 profits from sales with Gallery representatives. In 1971, Rothko's children filed a lawsuit against Reis, Morton Levine, and Theodore Stamos, the executors of his estate, over the sham sales. The lawsuit continued for more than 10 years, and became known as the Rothko Case. 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 only a small fraction of the eventual vast financial value, since achieved, by numerous Rothko works produced in his lifetime.
Rothko's complete works on canvas, 836 paintings, have been catalogued by art historian David Anfam, in his Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, published by Yale University Press in 1998.
In Rothko's birthplace, the Latvian city of Daugavpils, a monument to him, designed by sculptor Romualds Gibovskis, was unveiled on the bank of the Daugava River in 2003. In 2013 the Mark Rothko Art Centre opened in Daugavpils, after the Rothko family had donated a small collection of his original works.
In November 2003, an untitled red and brown Rothko painting from 1963, measuring 69 by 64 inches, sold for $7,175,000.
A previously unpublished manuscript by Rothko, The Artist's Reality, about his philosophies on art, edited by his son Christopher, was published by Yale University Press in 2004.
In November 2005, Rothko's 1954 painting Homage to Matisse broke the record for any postwar painting at a public auction, selling for $22.5 million.
In May 2007, Rothko's 1950 painting White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) broke this record again, selling at Sotheby's in New York for $72.8 million. The painting was sold by banker David Rockefeller, who attended the auction.
Red, a play by John Logan based on Rothko's life, opened at the Donmar Warehouse in London, on December 3, 2009. The play, starring Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, centered on the period of the Seagram Murals. This drama received excellent reviews, and usually played to full houses. In 2010 Red opened on Broadway, where it won six Tony Awards, including Best Play. Molina played Rothko in both London and New York. A recording of Red was produced in 2018 for Great Performances with Molina playing Rothko and Alfred Enoch playing his assistant.
In May 2011, Christie's 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 of $13 million and sold for $30 million.
In October 2012, Black on Maroon, one of the paintings in the Seagram series, was defaced with writing in black ink, while on display at Tate Modern. Restoration of the painting took eighteen months to complete. The BBC's Arts Editor Will Gompertz explained that the ink from the vandal's marker pen had bled all the way through the canvas, causing "a deep wound, not a superficial graze", and that the vandal had caused "significant damage".
In May 2012, Rothko's 1961 painting Orange, Red, Yellow (#693 in Anfam's catalogue raisonné) was sold by Christie's in New York for $86,862,500, setting a new nominal value record for a postwar painting at a public auction and putting it on the list of most expensive paintings.
In November 2012, his 1954 painting No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) was sold for $75.1 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York.
In 2014, Rothko's No. 21 (1953) sold for $44,965,000. The painting had been part of the Pierre and São Schlumberger collection.
In May 2014, Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange) (1955), which had been owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sold for $56.2 million.
In November 2014, a smaller Rothko painting in two shades of brown sold for $3.5 million, within its estimated range of $3 to 4 million.
In May 2015, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) (1954) sold for $46.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York. The painting was owned by Rachel Mellon. That month, No. 10 (1958) sold for $81.9 million at a Christies's auction in New York.
In May 2016, No. 17 (1957) was sold for $32.6 million at Christie's by an Italian collector.
In November 2018, Untitled (Rust, Blacks on Plum) (1962) was offered at auction by Christie's with an estimated price of $35 million to $45 million; it sold for $35.7 million.
Currently, Mark Rothko is 117 years, 10 months and 9 days old. Mark Rothko will celebrate 118th birthday on a Saturday 25th of September 2021.
Find out about Mark Rothko birthday activities in timeline view here.