by Milton Avery
This person is associated with: Abstract Expressionism, Abstract art
Lithuanian born artist whose family fled in the USA at the beginning of the World War I.
Rothko graduated from Yale, then the New York School of Design and the Art Students League of New York, where he was taught by Max Weber. He started an artistic career with difficulty, as his style was a banal kind of expressionism, with some portraits and watercoloured landscapes; later he explored Surrealism, then became interested in abstraction during the 1940s.
Throughout the decade, he experienced several formulas, and finally found in 1949 the composition which would turn him into one of the two great masters of Abstract-Expressionism - by now the dominant art movement in the USA - the other artist being Pollock. Contrary to him, Rothko however painted works with preparation and always repeated the same design, which made him one of the easiest artists to spot in the century.
As with Jawlensky and his famous "abstract head", he indeed declined hundreds of times his hallmark composition, made of two or three rectangular and blurred monochromatic fields, stacked on the top of each other and painted on a vertical support. The principal variation between his works was the choice of colours for each of these quadrangular shapes. During the 1950s, they were dominantly bright and warm, while they became cold and dark in the next decade, such as in the Rothko Chapel (Houston), where 14 massive dark canvases are displayed.
Perhaps, this change of palette expressed Rothko's depressed mood, since he committed suicide on 25 February 1970.
The paintings of his classic period (1950-1970) are frequently among the most expensive artworks sold at auctions, with prices sometimes exceeding $50 million. His Orange, Red, Yellow was notably auctioned for the staggering price of $86.8 million in 2012.
In 1985, Rothko's heirs made a fabulous gift of more than a thousand works (that would have been worth several billions of current dollars) to the National Gallery of Art, which therefore owns the best collection of his works in the world.
- David Anfam, Mark Rothko, The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998.
- Bonnie Clearwater, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, New York, 1984.