Mark Rothko – The Modern Abstract Painter

Jewish artist Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz on September 25, 1903 in Dvintz, Russia, which is now Daugavpils, Latvia. His family moved to Portland, Oregon when he was 10. After completing secondary school, he spent two years studying at Yale University before leaving his studies and moving to New York City in 1923. After moving to New York he became interested in art, and studied at the New School of Design and the Art Students League of New York. He became a United States citizen in 1938 and in 1940 he shortened his name to Mark Rothko so he would not be immediately known to be Jewish.

As Rothko’s style developed, he moved from drawing and painting realistic pictures, to pictures based on mythology to pictures that consisted of abstract forms using bright pictures. His final style consisted of large paintings containing blocks of darker colors. He preferred painting very large paintings so people would feel more like they were inside the paintings, rather than viewing them from the outside. Many of his paintings are meant to express various emotions through their use of color.

In his later year’s, both his paintings and his moods were darker. He didn’t always feel that people understood his artwork, but stopped trying to explain it. His work was becoming more popular and he was becoming more successful, but his personal life was starting to be more problematic. He developed an aneurysm but refused to change his unhealthy habits, and as a result needed assistance to create some of his larger works of art. He separated from his second wife in 1969 and was found dead after committing suicide by overdosing on pills and slitting his wrists on February 25, 1970 at the age of 66.

One of Mark Rothko’s largest projects, the Rothko Chapel, located in Houston, Texas next to the University of St. Thomas, was not completed until the year after his death. Although he directed the painting of all of the panels that were used to decorate the chapel, he did not paint all of them himself due to his health restrictions, instead directing assistants in the painting of many of the panels.

David Anfam, an art historian, created a catalogue of the 863 known canvasses painted by Mark Rothko in the book Mark Rothko: the works on canvas: catalogue raisonn published by Yale University Press. This is a good way to get an idea of the wide variety of works created by this artist.