Mark Rothko and his paintings

Mark Rothko Portrait

Considered as one of the most renowned figures in the history of Abstract Expressionist movement, Mark Rothko left a significant legacy throughout his life as an artist. Primarily during the 1950s, he gave his contribution to American art with his impressive works that continue to live on even after his death.

Discover more about Mark Rothko - his early life, struggles, and most importantly, his astounding works of art that made him a true gem in the history of art.

Marcus Rothkowitz, also known as Mark Rothko, was born on September 25, 1903 in Dvinsk, a place in Russia that is now the modern-day Daugavpils, in Latvia. His father was named Jacob, who worked as a pharmacist, while his mother was Anna.

During his childhood, he and his family moved to the United States and decided to remain there. He was only 10 years old when the Rothkowitz family left Dvinsk to settle in Portland, Oregon. One of the biggest events that shaped his career was when he joined a group of artists, along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who were also based in New York. Eventually, this group referred to themselves as Abstract Expressionists because of their genre of paintings.

Rothko became famous particularly for his artworks that depicted rectangles with luminous colors, which he intended to stimulate deep emotions. He also had quite a few other paintings that were intensely emotional and m eaningful in every aspect.

Rothko attended school in Lincoln High School, located in Portland. As a student, he was quite brilliant and did well in the academics. In college, he pursued a degree in liberal arts, as well as the sciences, in Yale University. However, he failed to finish his course and decided to leave school in 1923.

Afterwards, he travelled to New York City to take up a course at the Art Students League with Max Weber, one of the only professors there to have firsthand knowledge of and enthusiasm for European modernism. Rothko's early expressionist paintings on everyday subjects reflected Weber's influence as well as that of artists such as Marc Chagall. By 1929, he found employment at the Brooklyn Jewish Center, where he served as a teacher.

Soon after, Rothko showed evidences of his exceptional skill as an artist. In fact, his works were often featured in New York's Contemporary Arts Gallery and Portland's Museum of Art. It was in 1933 when his fame as an artist blossomed as several people began to take notice of his original and intense artworks.

By the 1930s, there were a few other modern artists who decided to have their artworks exhibited. This included Rothko, and the group was labelled as "The Ten". Rothko focused on exhibiting his works for the Works Progress Administration, where his masterpieces became federally-sponsored.

Early in his life as an artist, Rothko's works featured various scenes and images of the bustling urban lifestyle. His paintings also exude some mystery, intense emotions and isolation. During the post-World War era, he began to feature images of survival and death because of the situations that prevailed at the time of war. There were also some paintings that included concepts that were rooted from various religions and ancient mythical themes.

It is also worth noting that Rothko's works included creatures and elements that were rather outwordly in nature. These themes were partly due to the influence of the surrealists' concepts, particularly by Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst.

Along with Adolph Gottlieb, another artist, Rothko imbibed a strong concept of what art is, according to how they viewed it. He and Gottlieb believed that art should be an adventure of exploring an unknown and mysterious world. The two artists also favored more the simplified and direct expression of an intricate thought.

Hence, in the 1940s, Rothko joined a group of artists who considered themselves as Abstract Expressionists. These artists included Gottlieb, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman, among a few others. They referred to their works as abstract in nature. This means, their masterpieces offered intense emotions and expression without any reference to the earthly world.

In 1949, Rothko became fascinated by 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.

The genre of Rothko's works continued in the 1950s. Furthermore, unlike other paintings that had descriptive titles, his works only had numbers instead of a brief title. Rothko also opted to create paintings that were large scale, and he worked on vertical canvases. Most of his works included rectangles, which were colored in various colors depending on the message they were trying to imply. These rectangles were also presented with a brightly colored background, which gives an image as though they were floating.

He adopted this style in all his works, and that gave him numerous ideas in terms of the combination of color and proportion. Thus, he used these rectangles and luminous colors to evoke varied moods and emotions to the ones looking at these paintings.

Rothko's style was refered to as Colorfield Painting. Instead of the usual drips and splashes of paint, his works featured simple use of color with broad sizes. He also painted in several layers of colors, which had an image as though they were glowing from the inside. It is also recommended for viewers to study his works at a very close range, so they could feel and empathize with the emotions provoked by these paintings.

Mark Rothko Chapel Photo
Mark Rothko Chapel Photo

Later in Rothko's life, he leaned more towards darker and gloomier colors. It was in the 1960s when most of his paintings included a combination of colors such as black, brown and marroon. During this era, he was also earning more from commissions because of his large-scale works. For instance, he created some murals for New York's Four Seasons restaurant. However, this remained unfinished when he decided to quit working on this project.

Another large-scale painting he made was intended for a chapel based in Houston, Texas. As he consulted the architects of the chapel, he was able to create a solemn and peaceful space for contemplation with his use of immersive colors.

By 1968, Rothko suffered from intense depression due to his personal conflicts. This was also the primary cause of his untimely death when he committed suicide on February 25, 1970. Thus, he left Mary Alice Beistle, his second wife, along with his two children named Christopher and Kate. A legal conflict resulted from over 800 paintings that he left after his death. Soon, his remaining work was divided between various museums throughout the world, as well as the Rothko family members.