Mark Rothko

August 19, 2007

Mark Rothko, aka Marcus Rothkowitz (1903-1970), is respected as one of the most talented abstract-expressionist artists although he did not appreciate being titled as such. In 1923 Rothko was visiting a friend at the Art Students League of New York where he witnessed a group of students sketching a nude model, and it was then that Rothko decided that he would also become an artist. In fall of that year he enrolled in the same school and began taking classes from Max Weber, a still-life artist who influenced Rothko’s earliest paintings. Because he was in New York, Rothko was in an environment in which he was able to learn a lot about different types of art such as German Expressionism and Surrealism. By 1929 Rothko began teaching his own classes at the Center Academy where he taught for the next 23 years. While there, he spent a great deal of time with Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman, John Graham, and Milton Avery, all fellow artists. He eventually found inspiration in mythology and philosophy, the latter after having read The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche. It was then that Rothko began addressing spiritual and mythological subjects, both of now which he considered to be a requirement. He considered himself to be a mythmaker and wrote that “the exhilarated tragic experience” was for him “the only source of art.”

In 1943 he spent some time at Berkeley where he became influenced by Clyfford Still, who is said to have influenced his latter works. In describing this time, Rothko wrote, “I insist upon the equal existence of the world engendered in the mind and the world engendered by God outside of it. If I have faltered in the use of familiar objects, it is because I refuse to mutilate their appearance for the sake of an action which they are too old to serve, or for which perhaps they had never been intended. I quarrel with surrealists and abstract art only as one quarrels with his father and mother; recognizing the inevitability and function of my roots, but insistent upon my dissent; I, being both they, and an integral completely independent of them.” In the late 1940’s Rothko’s paintings became less surrealistic and mythological, and more abstract. This multiform style became Rothko’s signature work and was considered a breath of fresh air.

In 1950, Rothko traveled throughout Europe and visited the most noteworthy museums and architectural structures there. As he grew in popularity more people became interested in his multiform artwork which they described as abstract. Despite this, Rothko denounced that he was an abstract artist and wrote that his interest lied “only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.” In 1960 Rothko ended his own life and his legacy continued with the famous Rothko Chapel, his life works, and influence on art.


  • 1928: Opportunity Gallery
  • 1933: Portland Art Museum
  • 1933/34: Contemporary Arts Gallery
  • 1936: Galerie Bonaparte in France
  • 1938: Mercury Gallery Show
  • 1942: Macy’s
  • 1945: Guggenheim
  • 1943-1950: The Whitney Museum
  • 1949-1951: Betty Parsons Gallery
  • 1950: Museum of Modern Art
  • 1952: Museum of Modern Art
  • 1954: Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1958: The Four Seasons
  • The Phillips Collection
  • The Rothko Chapel
    (And more…)

Featured Paintings

Buy at
White Over Red
Buy at
No. 14 (White and Greens…)




  • Stigler, Stephen M., “Aaron Director Remembered”. 48 J. Law and Econ. 307, 2005.
  • Huge bids smash modern art record BBC News
  • The Artist’s Reality Yale University Press
  • Chave, Anne. Mark Rothko, 1903-1970: A Retrospective. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Breslin, J.E.B. Mark Rothko – A Biography, Chicago, London, University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Rothko, Mark (1999). The Individual and the Social. In Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood (Eds.), Art in Theory 1900-1990 An Anthology of Changing Ideas (563-565). Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd.
  • Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey, (New York School Press, 2003.) ISBN 0-9677994-1-4

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