(American, 1903–1970) was one of the leading members of the New York School of Abstract painters, and was best known for his meditative pieces featuring large, luminous blocks of color. Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Latvia, and moved with his family to the United States when he was 10 years old. In 1921, Rothko attended Yale University, where he planned to pursue a career as a lawyer or an engineer, but he abandoned his studies before graduating. Rothko then moved to New York and took classes at the Art Students League. Rothko’s early paintings, featuring urban scenes, landscapes, and figurative works with rough applications of paint, emphasized the expressive potential of art.
In the mid-1930s, he joined the Ten, a New York circle made up of many Modernist painters that would shape the next few decades of abstract painting in America: Ben-Zion
(American, 1897–1987), Ilya Bolotowsky
(American/Russian, 1907–1981), Adolph Gottlieb
(American, 1903–1974), Louis Harris
(1902–1970), Ralph Rosenborg
(American, 1913–1992), Louis Schanker
(American, 1903–1981), Nahum Tschacbasov
(American/Russian, 1899–1984), Joseph Solman
(American, 1909–2008), and Jack Kufeld
(American, 1907–1990). In a search for new visual means to express the changing American landscape in wartime, Rothko’s 1940s works became increasingly symbolic, featuring Surrealist-influenced biomorphic forms. Towards the late 1940s and 1950s, he painted the works he is best known for: blocks of color in luminous washes that created large, contemplative forms on canvas.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, his works often assumed darker hues with rich, textured layers. Rothko spent several years concentrating on works for a chapel in Houston, reinforcing his unwavering belief in the spiritual and emotional qualities of Abstract Art. Rothko, who suffered from depression, took his own life in 1970; at that point, he had held a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and was fully recognized as a leading American abstractionist. Retrospectives of his work have been held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Tate Modern in London, the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.