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Mark Rothko

ROTHKO, MARK (1903–1970), U.S. painter. Born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia, Rothko immigrated to the United States in 1913 with his family, settling in Portland, Oregon. He attended Yale University on a scholarship (1921–23), but after two years he moved to New York and briefly studied at the Art Students League, notably with Max *Weber. In 1928 the former yeshivah student was commissioned to draw maps for Rabbi Lewis Browne's book The Graphic Bible. Rothko also supported himself by teaching art to children at the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a position he held from 1929 until 1952. He found success early with expressionistic, painterly, representational canvases, shown in his first group exhibition at the Opportunity Galleries (1928) and his first one-man show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery (1933), both in New York. As a member of The Ten, an artist-group that he co-founded in 1935 with Adolph *Gottlieb and *Ben-Zion, and affiliated with for five years, Rothko exhibited imagery stimulated by aspects of mythology, and at times Christian iconography, such as the crucifixion. He worked as a Works Progress Administration artist from 1936 to 1937.

In the early 1940s Rothko fell under the influence of Surrealism, often making images comprised of organic forms. At the end of the decade Rothko painted fully abstract imagery with an oil technique that approximated his watercolor experimentations in the mid-1940s. Typical of Rothko's signature style is Green and Tangerine on Red (1956, Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.), a large canvas consisting of two flat, rectangular shapes of thin color. Filling the canvas, the nearly translucent hues seem to float on the surface of the composition. Rothko exploited this formula with differing color variations, size of colorfields, and application of the paint to convey an array of sensations, ranging from meditative to ominous. By 1961 Rothko was a celebrated artist who enjoyed a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Rothko received several public commissions, including the artwork for an octagonal chapel in Houston, Texas. Decorated with 14 canvases in nuanced shades of black and maroon, the Rothko Chapel was dedicated in February 1971, a year after the artist committed suicide.


D. Waldman, Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective (1978); B. Clearwater, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper (1984); A.C. Chave, Mark Rothko: Subjects in Abstraction (1989); J.E.B. Breslin, Mark Rothko (1993); D. Anfam, Mark Rothko, The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné (1998).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.