Room 1: The Seagram murals between New York and London

Maquette for installation of Seagram murals at Tate Gallery

Maquette for installation of Seagram murals at Tate Gallery

Tate Archive Collection© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998 Photo by: J.Fernandes, Tate Photography

In early 1958 Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the exclusive Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. He started work later that year in a newly rented studio, a former gymnasium which allowed him to simulate the proportions of the restaurant’s private dining room. Rothko was eager to create a lasting environment for his paintings, but doubts about the appropriateness of the restaurant setting ultimately led to his withdrawal from the commission.

Maquette for installation of Seagram murals at Tate Gallery 1970

Maquette for installation of Seagram murals at Tate Gallery 1970

Tate Archive Collection
© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998 Photo by: J.Fernandes, Tate Photography

In the mid-1960s, Norman Reid, the Director of the Tate Gallery, approached Rothko about the possibility of extending his representation in the Collection. Rothko responded by suggesting a group of Seagram murals to be displayed as an immersive environment. In September 1969, Reid provided Rothko with a small cardboard maquette of the designated gallery space to finalise his selection and to suggest a hang. This exercise resulted in the major gift of nine murals to the museum, where they have been displayed almost continuously, albeit in different arrangements, as the so-called ‘Rothko Room’.

Maquette for installation of Seagram murals at Tate Gallery 1970 (Mini painting 6)

Maquette for installation of Seagram murals at Tate Gallery 1970 (Mini painting 6)

Tate Archive Collection
© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998 Photo by: J.Fernandes, Tate Photography

Rothko never devised a final scheme for The Four Seasons restaurant, nor did he prescribe a fixed order for the display of his murals at Tate. At an early stage he seems to have contemplated a continuous frieze, as evidenced by the small sketches in this room. By contrast, the Tate model, which includes the small maquettes made by Rothko for a number of the works, suggests that he wanted the paintings to be hung slightly apart with the two extreme landscape formats double-hung. It remains inconclusive, however, as one maquette is missing and two others are blank.