Paintings and Drawings of Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
from the National Gallery in Washington: The Artist's 100th Anniversary
To celebrate the artist's 100th anniversary, the museum presents (rooms No. 28-32) an exhibition of the outstanding American artist of the 20th century Mark Rothko from the National Gallery in Washington.
Mark Rothko (Marcus Rothkowitz) was born in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils, Latvia). In 1913, his family immigrated to the United States. After studying philosophy for two years at Yale University, he moved to New York City to study there in the art school of Max Weber, who introduced him to contemporary West European art and Russian avant-garde.
During the 1920s and 1930s Rothko painted portraits, landscapes, city scenes and nudes in a fairly traditional manner. This period in his career is illustrated in the Hermitage show by the highly expressive portraits and Street Scene with their slightly deformed figures usual in European and American art of the 1910-20s.
One of the exhibition's centerpieces is Underground Fantasy (c. 1940), where pure color and flat surfaces forebode the master's future abstract creations.
The new period in the late 1930s and first half of the 1940s was inspired by Ancient Greek myths and tragedies. The two standing characters in Untitled of 1941-42 look like mask-wearing actors.
The new period from the mid-1940s was influenced by European surrealism, evident in The Spring (1945-46) and Water Drama (1946). Rothko was stimulated by the achievement of Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Joan Miro and Yves Tanguy, who belonged to the abstract (non-objective) wing of surrealism. These paintings, where Rothko presented semi-abstract organic forms generated by his fantasies and erotic dreams, are called biomorphic.
1947 inaugurated a watershed in the artist's career, when Rothko embraced his characteristic style of abstract expressionism totally abandoning any elements of representation. The so-called multiforms created between 1947 and 1949, represented in the exhibit by Number 10 and Number 11 (1949), are compositions within which cloud-like forms and numerous color surfaces are freely moving to and fro.
By 1950, Rothko achieved his ideal of "the simple expression of the complex thought". He now preferred large-scale rectangular compositions, where forms seem to be built into a vertical line and bound together by a selection of three or four colors. This is what characterized the artist's individual style. Rothko's mature style is excellently represented by the spectacular orange-and-white Untitled (1955), where two blurred rectangles are floating in the air.
The key element of Rothko's mature and late style is color as the emanation of his emotions and expressive and dramatic perception of the world. The artist's task is to express humanity's lofty aspirations in color.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Rothko used dark colors more readily, preferring the darker combinations of red, brown and black. This change was associated with his monumental projects - paintings for Harvard University and a non-confessional oratory, the so-called "Rothko Chapel" in Houston (1967). The theme of individual versus the world, which preoccupied the master during his entire life, found its expression in his new creations. Rothko became more concerned with the place of his monumental paintings in space, which enclosed the onlooker and plunged him into his emotions. Rothko's creations are sometimes described as "iconoclastic icons", deprived of religious characters but endowed with religious symbolism.
The series of brown or black-and-gray monochromes created by Rothko in 1969-70, where the bells of tragedy and death are clearly audible, are represented by two drawings of 1969 and another Untitled (1969).
The master's last painting of 1970 is executed in red hues, full of internal drama. Mark Rothko died on 25 February, 1970.