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Mark Rothko

By Editor. 07.12.2009

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Mark Rothko, real name Markus Rotkovich (1903 – 1970), is one of the most important artists of the 20th century with world fame, whose name is connected with Latvia.

 Rothko is one of the central figures of post-war painting in the USA, representing together with Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still the so-called abstract expressionism branch of the New York school. He was born in Daugavpils, Latvia on September 25, 1903. The family emigrated to the USA when the boy was 10, and settled in Portland, Oregon in 1913. In 1921 Rothko entered Yale University, but two years later moved to New York where he studied with Max Weber at the Art Students’ League, where he was introduced to cubism and the works of Paul Cezanne.

As other artists of his age, Rothko tried out several styles, and by the mid-century he acquired a style particular to him uniquely. In 20s and 30s he created hundreds of figural works on paper and canvas – acts, portraits, interiors with human figures, city sights and landscapes. Around 1940, he started to investigate Greek-Roman myths in a series of neo-classic paintings, which are characteristic by layer-like compositions, similar to Roman sarcophagi and Greek friezes with human and animal limbs and hybridic figures. Around 1947, Rothko eliminated all artistic elements from his paintings, and by 1950 he had substantially changed the composition of his paintings, turning now to rectangle forms and reducing the number to 2-4, as well as placing them vertically on a colour background, which remained a style particular to him: paintings according to his ideal – “simple layout of a complex idea”.

In 1958, Rothko had his first commission – monumental paintings for the NY restaurant “The Four Seasons”. In 1961, the NY Modern Art Museum organized his solo exhibition, which was the peak of his creative life, and the exhibition toured the biggest cities of Europe. In 1962, he finished a series of wall paintings at Harvard University, and in 1964 started out on another commission – wall paintings at Huston Chapel (Texas), which was opened in 1971, a year after Rothko had decided to end his life in suicide in his New York studio.

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