Mark Rothko, 1903 – 1970

September 25, 1903: Birthdate of Mark Rothko. Rothko was a painter who is often classified as an abstract expressionist, although he vociferously denied being an abstract painter. He was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Daugavpils (Dvinsk), Russia (now Latvia) and emigrated to the United States in 1916.His work concentrated on basic emotions, often filling the canvas with very few, but intense colors, using little immediately-apparent detail. In this respect, he can also be considered to presage the color field painters (see Helen Frankenthaler).Although respected by other artists, Rothko remained in relative obscurity until 1960, supporting himself by teaching art. In 1958, Rothko was commissioned by architect Philip Johnson to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. This substantial project was completed in late 1959. Ultimately, Rothko was not happy having his paintings as the backdrop to gourmet dining so he gave a set of nine of the maroon and black works to the Tate Gallery, where they are on permanent display in an installation designed by Rothko. In 1967, Rothko again collaborated with Johnson on a church in Houston, Texas, contributing 14 related works in an installation setting. The church has subsequently become known as “The Rothko Chapel”. Numerous other works are scattered in museums throughout the world. Rothko’s work was secretly supported by the CIA which considered it “free enterprise painting”.  After a long struggle with depression, Rothko committed suicide by cutting his wrists in his New York studio on February 25, 1970. After his death, his son edited and released Rothko’s novel, An Artist’s Reality, which was incomplete at the time of his death, despite decades of work. Following his death the settlement of the Rothko estate became the subject of a famous court case.

Both the the United States and Latvia have issued stamps commemorating Rothko:

mark rothko_us                        mark rothko_latvia

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