Biography Mark Rothko – Hamburger Kunsthalle

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Mark Rothko. The Retrospective
on display through 24 August 2008.

Mark Rothko 1903 – 1970

\"© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008\"
Mark Rothko. Retrospektive – Kunsthalle Hamburg
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Self-portrait, 1936
Öl auf Leinwand, 81,9 x 65,4 cm
Collection Christopher Rothko
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

1903 – 1921

On 25 September 1903, Marcus Rothkowitz is born in Dwinsk, Russia, the presentday 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 structures.

1947 – 1950

Around 1947, Rothko abandons all figurative elements in his work. His “multiformpaintings” 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 structural order.

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.


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One Response to “Biography Mark Rothko – Hamburger Kunsthalle”

  1. […] Mark Rothko – Biography […]

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