Among those who viewed the Seagram murals in Rothko’s studio was the collector and patron Dominique de Menil, who subsequently invited the artist to create a set of paintings for a non-denominational chapel in Houston. This purpose-designed octagonal building finally offered Rothko a controlled setting where the architecture was subordinated to the demands of his paintings. He spent months considering different options before producing twenty-three panels, fourteen of which were installed the year after his death. His preparatory sketches reveal the attention he gave to the arrangement of the canvases and his preoccupation with their proportions. While it is not possible to borrow the actual Chapel paintings, these sketches give a flavour of the finished murals’ radical structure.
No. 5 1964, one of Rothko’s so-called Black-Form paintings (more of which can be seen in the following room), relates closely to the Chapel. Its stripped-down composition of a black field on a dark maroon background echoes that explored in the small sketches, while its palette takes the crepuscular atmosphere of the Seagram murals one step further. Though dramatically different in its strident colour scheme, Untitled 1964, which was not part of a series, closely mirrors the proportions of its darker counterpart. The colour is pure and solid, with one brown rectangle superimposed on top of a larger red rectangle, which fills and wraps around the canvas. Unlike those of Rothko’s earlier paintings, the fields’ edges are sharp and defined.