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.
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’.
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.