The large dark works which form the core of this exhibition came to Tate from the painter Mark Rothko as a result of lengthy negotiations begun by Sir Norman Reid, then Director of the Gallery, with the artist in 1965. The outcome came in 1970 when the artist gave the Gallery a set of murals which he had completed for a different building ten years previously.
This exhibition seeks to follow the path of these works from conception to final resting place at Tate and, by using records in the form of models, sketches and contemporary accounts, to examine what Rothko's intention was and why he withdrew from the original commission.
Rothko was commissioned to paint a set of murals in 1958 to hang in a room designed by Philip Johnson in the Seagram Building, a skyscraper in New York which officially opened in May of that year. The room finally opened as a restaurant called the Four Seasons in June 1959, without Rothko's work. In April 1960, after more than two years work on the project and a studio of completed work, Rothko cancelled the contract.