Mark Rothko 1903
1903 - 1921
On 25 September 1903, Marcus Rothkowitz is born in Dwinsk, Russia,
the present-day Daugavpils in Latvia. He is the fourth child of
the Jewish pharmacist Jacob Rothkowitz and his wife Anna Goldin.
In 1913, the family emigrates to the United States and settles in
Portland, Oregon. After the death of their father in 1914, Marcus
has to work in order to support the family while at the same time
attending school. In 1921 he receives a scholarship from the renowned
Yale University where he studies psychology and philosophy.
1922 - 1932
After two years, Rothkowitz leaves Yale without completing a degree
and moves to New York where he takes up studying at the New York
School of Design. Through his acquaintance with the artists Sally
and Milton Avery, Rothkowitz meets Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb,
with whom he develops a close friendship. In 1929, Rothkowitz takes
up teaching at the Center Academy of the Jewish Center in Brooklyn,
a profession he keeps up until 1955. In 1932, he meets Edith Sachar
and they get married in the same year.
1933 - 1940
At the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York, Rothkowitz presents
his first solo exhibition. He is one of the founding members of
the Artists Union and joins the artists' group The Ten. At the time
of the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project is set up to support
American artists by awarding them public commissions. From 1936
to 1939, Rothkowitz is admitted to this programme and in 1937, he
is classified as an easel painter.
He unsuccessfully applies for commissions for mural paintings, an
effort reflected in a small series of cityscapes and subway scenes
with radical foreshortenings. Small gesso-boards also point to his
interest in the fresco technique. In this time, he starts signing
his works as “Rothko”. In 1938, he is naturalized as
an American citizen.
1941 - 1946
Rothko takes part in several group exhibitions at the gallery of
Peggy Guggenheim and others. In reaction to repeated negative reviews
of his work, Rothko publishes a number of strong rhetorical statements
in newspaper and radio format. He writes a theoretical treatise
which is first published by the artist's son, Christopher Rothko,
in 2004, as The Artist's Reality.
In reaction to World War Two, Rothko, Gottlieb and
Newman turn back to the subject matter of ancient Greek tragedies.
As reduced visual ciphers, these themes serve as a means to express
a fundamental human tragedy. After repeated separations, Rothko
and his wife Edith Sachar are divorced in 1944. Rothko meets the
illustrator Mary Alice Beistle, called Mell, and they marry in 1945.
Impressed by the Surrealists, many of whom have emigrated to New
York, he transforms his myth-laden figurations into biomorphic painterly
1947 - 1950
Around 1947, Rothko abandons all figurative elements in his work.
His “multiform-paintings” mark the transition to pure
abstraction: Luminous colours, strong contrasts, and small forms
and fields of colour create the impression of a painting that is
vibrant, breathing and intensely alive. He regularly exhibits at
Betty Parsons' Gallery in New York. In 1950, Rothko and Mell depart
on a five-months journey to Europe. At the end of the year, their
daughter Kathy Lynn, called Kate, is born. Rothko's signature period
of classical abstraction begins with the “walls of light”,
horizontal stripes of intense colour stacked above one another on
steep vertical formats. The amorphous formal language gradually
intensifies, causing the coloured clouds to adopt a block-shaped
1951 - 1958
Rothko reduces the colour of his increasingly large formats to a
number of two or three cloud-like shapes that appear to float above
a monochrome background. In 1954, the Sidney Janis Gallery begins
to represent Mark Rothko. For the artist, this marks the beginning
of a period of financial success and artistic independence, which
continues for the rest of his life. From 1958 on, Rothko's palette
darkens towards a restrained maroon and the ambition to create painted
spatial environments becomes central to Rothko's artistic endeavours.
That summer, he represents the USA at the Venice Biennial and is
commissioned to decorate the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram
Building in New York. In 1958, his name is officially legalized
as Mark Rothko.
1959 - 1963
The artist and his family once more spend a couple of months in
Europe. Upon his return, Rothko withdraws his paintings from the
Seagram Building. Some of his works from private collections are
shown at the 1959 Documenta II in Kassel. In 1961, the Museum of
Modern Art in New York shows a first retrospective of his uvre,
which also travels to Europe. In 1963, Rothko's son Christopher
Hall is born.
1964 - 1970
In 1964, the Catholic collectors Jean and Dominique de Menil commission
Rothko to conceive murals for a specially-designed chapel in Houston,
Texas. For this project, Rothko creates paintings in black on black
with sharply outlined contours that refuse all decorative elements
and introduce an unprecedented iconic austerity to his work. In
1966, the family once more travels to Europe. Rothko visits the
Tate Gallery, whose director, Sir Norman Reid, has proposed to devote
a room especially to Rothko's paintings. Shortly before his death,
Rothko gives nine of the paintings from the Seagram Building series
to the Tate Gallery. In 1968, his health deteriorates significantly
and doctors advise him to restrict his painting to small formats.
He once more takes up painting on paper. The large-format series
of Black and Gray paintings mark a new beginning in his artistic
output. By leaving an uncoloured stripe around the border of these
paintings, he creates the effect of a picture-within-the-picture,
with a surface that appears hermetically sealed. In contrast to
his earlier abstract work, these paintings completely reject the
viewer's gaze. In 1969, Rothko leaves his family and moves into
his studio. On 25 February 1970, Rothko commits suicide.
The exhibition has been realised in cooperation with
partner of the Hamburger Kunsthalle
For further support we thank