Mark Rothko – 7 Interesting Facts

Mark Rothko (born Markus Rotkovich) is one of the principal figures associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. A painter of Russian Jewish descent, he immigrated with his family to the United States when he was a child. Aside from being known as one of the most famous post-war American artists, here are the following interesting facts:

1. His early works were influenced by surrealism.

  • Rothko painted scenes of urban life using figurative, biomorphic forms that represented otherworldly creatures and plants.
  • After World War II, he focused on interpretations of ancient myth and religion, as well as timeless themes of death and survival.

2. Rothko pioneered what became known as “colorfield painting.”

  • His signature style consisted of rectangles of vibrant color and light that seemed to be floating against a colored background.
  • This formula allowed Rothko to create different moods and effects using variations of color and proportion.

3. The colors in his works seem to glow from within.

  • Rothko painted colors in thin, layered washes that dissolve into one another and create a very subtle coloration for the rest of the painting.
  • Even the “black” used in his later works has flashes of color from underneath. This is not actually black, but darker colors placed on top or next to a different color.

4. Rothko valued individual, personal experience in viewing his art.

  • His works were painted on large, vertical canvases which were intended to be viewed up close and give the viewer a sense of being engulfed by them and sharing emotions with the painter.
  • Though critics have praised his style, Rothko considered color as merely an instrument while his true focus is “only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on”.

5. His greatest fear was having his works seen as purely decorative.

  • Rothko suggested to view his paintings with one’s mind free of any aesthetic consideration. He did not want his works to be considered beautiful, but moving and awe-inspiring.
  • It was suspected that he turned down what would have been his most lucrative commission because his murals would be used merely for display purposes.

6. Rothko’s works (and life) veered towards darkness.

  • He suffered from depression and started painting in darker colors during the later stages of his career.
  • Some would say Rothko’s new color palette was an omen of his suicide in 1970.

7. His works continue to be greatly coveted.

  • Rothko had over 800 paintings in his personal possession which became the center of an extended legal battle after his death.
  • In 2012, his painting “Orange, Red, Yellow” sold for $86.9 million, making it one of the most expensive post-war paintings sold at an auction.

Though he refused to be associated with any art movement, Mark Rothko has left a legacy that makes him one of the most celebrated painters in America. His emphasis on raw human emotion continues to make an impact to this day.