Mark Rothko

Russia (Latvia) 1903 – United States of America 1970

Marcus Rothkowitz was born in Dvinsk, Russia, on 25 September 1903. In 1913 his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Portland, Oregon. He won a scholarship to Yale University, New Haven, which he attended from 1921 to 1923. When the scholarship was not renewed he moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League, where he studied with Max Weber. He first showed his work in a group exhibition at the Opportunities Gallery, New York, in 1928, becoming friends with fellow exhibitor Milton Avery. His first solo exhibition was held five years later at the Museum of Art, Portland, in 1933. Like many of his contemporaries, he was employed by the Federal Art Project of the Works Project Administration, from 1936 to 1939. He became an American citizen in 1938 and in 1940 began using the name Mark Rothko, although he did not change his name legally until 1959. His earlier style of broadly-painted realism gave way to Surrealist-inspired mythological themes at this time. He showed these works at his solo exhibition at the Art of This Century Gallery, New York, in 1945.

By 1947 Rothko's paintings had become completely abstract, his compositions made up of irregular areas of colour. These he simplified in 1949 to the loose rectangular coloured shapes floating in vertical file that characterise his mature works. He supported himself through a variety of teaching jobs but by the late 1950s was able to rely on sales of his paintings. In 1958 he was one of four Americans represented at the Venice Biennale, and in the same year he was commissioned to paint murals for the Seagram Building in New York. In 1961 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, mounted an exhibition of his work, which travelled to major European cities. In 1962 Rothko completed a series of murals for Harvard University, and in 1964 started work on a commission to provide murals for a chapel in Houston, Texas, which was dedicated in February 1971. Rothko suicided in his New York studio on 25 February 1970. Retrospectives were held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1978 and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2015.

See more works by this artist in the NGA collection

Mark Rothko Multiform 1948 © Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko. ARS/Copyright Agency Purchased 1981 Learn more

Mark Rothko Untitled 1944-46 © Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko. ARS/Copyright Agency Gift of American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia, Inc., New York, NY, USA, made possible with the generous support of Mark Rothko Foundation, 1986 Learn more

Mark Rothko 1957 # 20 1957 © Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko. ARS/Copyright Agency Purchased 1981 Learn more