Technique and condition

Black on Maroon is painted in mixed media on a single piece of cotton duck. The fabric is stretched over a delicate strainer made of thin wooden bars, braced with internally sprung cross-bars. This apparently flimsy structure maintains a good even tension in the large expanse of cloth. The artist and his assistant prepared the cotton duck by applying, very quickly, a layer of maroon paint made from powder pigments mixed into animal skin glue.

Onto this coloured base, Rothko built up the maroon base colour in thin layers. These increased the intensity and depth of the red by allowing the lower layers to influence the overlying maroon. At the same time, a black figure was painted in glue tempera, but in a different position from the one now visible. Originally the black vertical bars lay closer to the edge. This earlier position may be just visible to the naked eye despite the artist applying a thick coat of opaque maroon paint on top. Black glue tempera paint was selected for its mattness. Thick islands of impasto create accents at each corner and at the centre of the bars where Rothko smeared on dabs of black with a stiff brush, and stippled whipped peaks of paint onto the flat surface. Fine rivulets of dilute maroon paint run across the black bars; just visible as glossy lines.

In the mid 1960s, before it was selected for the gift to the Tate, this painting was lined and the maroon background was varnished. It is in good condition.

Mary Bustin
August 2000