Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

Style: Abstract Expressionism

Lived: September 25, 1903 - February 25, 1970 (20th century)

Nationality: Russia


Marcus Rothkowitz was born on September 25, 1903, in Dvinsk, Russia. With his family and him being Jewish, they weren't really accepted into the Russian comunity. In 1913 he left Russia to rejoin his family, who had previously settled in Portland, Oregon. He studied "Liberal Arts" in Yale University from 1921 - 1923, but left without getting a degree. In 1925 Rothko moved to New York, where he started studying at the Art Students League under Max Weber. His first solo exhibition took place at the Portland Art Museum in 1933.


In 1935, Mark Rothko was a founding member of the Ten, a group of artists sympathetic to Abstraction and Expressionism. This style would be visible in Rothko's early paintings which rejected all conventional modes of representation. Instead Rothko wanted to stress en emotional approach to the subject.

In the period 1942 - 1947, Mark Rothko embarked upon a surrealist phase, drawing upon Greek mythology, primitive art, Christian tragedy and symbolism by way of contrast to an era dominated by World War II. In his work, there started to emerge traces of what would become his aforementioned 'signature format,' the primordial shapes; the horizontals and experimentation of techniques, leading to the development of a 'luminosity,' used to such great effect in his classic paintings.


By 1947, Rothko had discontinued his use of mythology, at least directly, and all "Figurative associations and references to the natural world disappeared." What emerged were his so-called multi-forms, dabbling in abstraction. Rothko started to talk of his art as actors, performing drama as well as the notion of tragedy and the transcendental.

Linear elements were progressively eliminated, as asymmetrically arranged patches of color became the basis of his compositions. At this point Rothko began to paint the edges of his stretched canvases, which he displayed without confining frames. Having abolished the use of frames, Rothko in addition abandoned the entitling of his work, his paintings now unencumbered by any imposed interpretations, pure in the eyes of the viewer. "Silence is so accurate", he said, fearing that words would only paralyse the viewer's mind and imagination.

By 1950 Rothko had reduced the number of floating rectangles to two or three, at most four, and in doing so arrived at a format he obviously felt at ease with, for it went unchanged from now on until his death. His move towards larger canvasses still, was, as Rothko stated, because the large scale of these canvases was intended to contain or envelop the viewer - not to be grandiose, but intimate and human.


Mark Rothko committed suicide by cutting his wrists on February 25, 1970, in his New York studio. One year later, the Rothko Chapel is Houston was dedicated to his life and works.

copyright 2018 -

website by

design by