Mark Rothko



Mark Rothko 1903–1970
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1900 × 1011 × 35 mm
Presented by the Mark Rothko Foundation 1986

Display caption

In his mature work, Rothko abandoned specific reference to nature in order to paint images with universal associations. By the late 1940s he had developed a style in which hazy, luminous rectangles float within a vertical format. Rothko wrote that the great artistic achievements of the past were pictures of the human figure alone in a moment of utter immobility. He sought to create his own version of this solitary meditative experience, scaling his pictures so that the viewer is enveloped in their subtly shifting, atmospheric surface.

Gallery label, July 2012

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Catalogue entry

Mark Rothko 1903-1970

T04148 Untitled c.1951-2

Oil possibly mixed with egg and resins on canvas 1890 x 1008 (74 1/2 x 39 3/4)
Inscribed ‘39 3/4 x 74 5165' on back of canvas vertically towards b.r. in another hand
Presented by the Mark Rothko Foundation 1986
Prov: The artist until 1970; ...; Mark Rothko Foundation by 1984
Exh: Mark Rothko 1903-1970, Tate Gallery, June-Sept. 1987, (39, repr. in col.), Fundación Juan March, Madrid, Sept. 1987-Jan. 1988 (19, repr. in col.), Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Jan.-March 1988 (32, repr. in col.); Mark Rothko: The Seagram Mural Project, Tate Gallery Liverpool, May 1988-Feb. 1989 (3, repr. in col.)
Lit: Nicholas Ashford, ‘Tate to be given Rothko paintings', Times, 4 May 1984, p.6; Michael Brenson, ‘Rothko Foundation gives 1,000 works to 19 art museums', New York Times, 4 May 1984, pp.A1 and C28; Paul Richard, ‘19 Museums to get Rothkos', International Herald Tribune, 5 May 1984, p.4; Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, pp.80-1 repr. (col., dated 1951-5); Giles Auty, ‘Rothko redux', Spectator, 27 July 1987, p.42 repr. Also repr: Art News, vol.83, Jan. 1984, p.79

T04148 is a painting from the beginning of Rothko's mature period when he painted blocks of colour stacked on top of each other in a manner which relates visually to the use of horizon lines in the earlier ‘Surrealist' works of the early forties.

T04148 is painted predominantly in yellow and pink, a large pink band lying at the bottom of the canvas and a strip of pink separating the two principal yellow fields. Rothko appears to have applied the paint in the manner described by Dana Cranmer:

He added unbound powdered pigments and whole eggs to his paint formula and often diluted the paint film with solvent, so that the effect of the binding element in the paint mixture was compromised; the pigment particles were almost disassociated from the paint film, barely clinging to the surface. Rothko ignored the limits of physical coherence to achieve a translucency unique to his paintings. Light penetrated the attenuated paint film, striking the individual pigment particles and bouncing back to suffuse the surface and engulf the viewer in an aura of colour. These films, brushed one on top of another, have an opalescent quality. Light seems to emanate from within the paint film itself (‘Painting Materials and Techniques of Mark Rothko ...' in [Michael Compton (ed.)] 1987, p.192).

In terms of its colour T04148 is closely related to ‘Yellow, Pink, Yellow on Light Pink' 1955 (repr. Mark Rothko, exh. cat., Museo d'arte moderna Ca'Pesaro 1970, no.13). The latter's format, however, is different in that T04148 is considerably narrower. Indeed T04148 is among the narrowest paintings that Rothko made in his mature style. In regard to the relationships of the various blocks of colour, which in this period were more clearly separated from each other than in later works, and to the repetition of one colour in a horizontal stripe to separate two fields of colour, T04148 relates to ‘Black, Pink and Yellow over Orange' 1951-2 (collection Graham Gund, repr. Diane Waldman, Mark Rothko, 1903-1970: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1978, no.103 in col.) and ‘White, Yellow, Red on Yellow' 1953 (repr. Waldman 1978, no.113). In addition to the size of the canvas, the density of the paint, the comparative lack of translucence and the relatively sharp edges to the colour fields suggest that the work was made in the early fifties. In the Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, the painting was dated 1951-5 but on stylistic grounds 1955 seems to be too late for such a work.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.261-2

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