Mark Rothko (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.

Timeline

1903
Born Marcus Rothkowitz on September 25, in Dvinsk, Russia
1921–1923
Moved to the United States and attended Yale University, New Haven, on a scholarship
1923
Moved to New York and studied briefly at the Art Students League
1936–1937
Created paintings for the WPA Federal Art Project from 1936 to 1937
1948
Founded the short-lived Subjects of the Artist school in New York with William Baziotes, David Hare, and Robert Motherwell
1947–1949
Taught at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco
1970
Took his own life February 25, in his New York studio

Exhibitions

2008–2009
Sept. 26 - Feb. 1, "ROTHKO", Tate Modern, London, England
2003–2007
Oct. 12 - Aug. 12, "Mark Rothko, The Mural Projects", National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1987
Tate Gallery, London, England (solo)
1984
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (toured the United States, 1984-86) (solo)
1981
Pace Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1978
Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (solo)
Pace Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1977
Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Mantua, Italy (solo)
1975
Cleveland Museum of Art (with Milton Avery and Jon Schueler)
1974
Newport Harbour Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA(solo)
1972
Hayward Gallery, London, England (solo)
1971
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (solo)
1970
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (solo)
1965
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy (solo)
1963
Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (solo)
1961
Solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1958
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1957
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX (solo)
1954
Art Institute of Chicago (travelled to the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence) (solo)
1951
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1946
Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
San Francisco Museum of Art (travelled to the Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California) (solo)
1945
Peggy Guggenheim gave Rothko a solo show at Art of This Century in New York
1940
Neumann-Willard Gallery, New York, NY (with Marcel Gromaire and Joseph Solman) (solo)
1933
First solo show took place at the Portland Art Museum
1933
First solo exhibition in New York at the Contemporary Arts Gallery
1928
First group exhibition at the Opportunity Galleries, New York, NY