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Artists Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko Photo

Mark Rothko

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, Color Field Painting

Born: September 25, 1903 - Dvinsk, Russian Empire

Died: February 25, 1970 - New York, New York

Mark Rothko Timeline


"I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors who are able to move dramatically without embarrassment and execute gestures without shame."
Mark Rothko
"Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start were simply the doorway through which one left the world in which they occur."
Mark Rothko
"Since my pictures are large, colorful, and unframed, and since museum walls are usually immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative areas to the walls."
Mark Rothko
"The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions.. the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point."
Mark Rothko
"The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed. Pictures must be miraculous: The instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider, the picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need."
Mark Rothko
"The progression of a painter's work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity; toward the eliminiation of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer."
Mark Rothko
"Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness."
Mark Rothko
"I am not an abstractionist, I have never lost the sense of the need for concreteness. That is why I do not understand an aesthetic built on the perception of relationships. The image for me must always be concrete and indivisible and understandable in terms of real life"
Mark Rothko
"We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth."
Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb
"I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing, and stretching one’s arms again transcendental experiences became possible."
Mark Rothko
"Like the Cubists before them, the abstractionists felt a beautiful thing in perceiving how the medium can, of its own accord, carry one into the unknown, that is to the discovery of new structures. What an inspiration the medium is.."
Mark Rothko
"While the authority of the doctor or plumber is never questioned, everyone deems himself a good judge and an adequate arbiter of what a work of art should be and how it should be done."
Mark Rothko
"In matters of art our society has substituted taste for truth, which she finds more amusing and less of a responsibility, and changes her tastes as frequently as she changes her hats and shoes."
Mark Rothko

"If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom."

Mark Rothko Signature


A prominent figure among the New York School painters, Mark Rothko moved through many artistic styles until reaching his signature 1950s motif of soft, rectangular forms floating on a stained field of color. Heavily influenced by mythology and philosophy, he was insistent that his art was filled with content, and brimming with ideas. A fierce champion of social revolutionary thought, and the right to self-expression, Rothko also expounded his views in numerous essays and critical reviews.

Key Ideas

Highly informed by Nietzsche, Greek mythology, and his Russian-Jewish heritage, Rothko's art was profoundly imbued with emotional content that he articulated through a range of styles that evolved from figurative to abstract.
Rothko's early figurative work - including landscapes, still lifes, figure studies, and portraits - demonstrated an ability to blend Expressionism and Surrealism. His search for new forms of expression led to his Color Field paintings, which employed shimmering color to convey a sense of spirituality.
Rothko maintained the social revolutionary ideas of his youth throughout his life. In particular he supported artists' total freedom of expression, which he felt was compromised by the market. This belief often put him at odds with the art world establishment, leading him to publicly respond to critics, and occasionally refuse commissions, sales and exhibitions.


Mark Rothko Photo


Born in Dvinsk, Russia (in what is now Latvia), Marcus Rothkovich was the fourth child born to Jacob and Anna Rothkovich. As Russia was a hostile environment for Zionist Jews, Jacob immigrated to the United States with his two older sons in 1910, finally sending for the rest of his family in 1913. They settled in Portland, Oregon, though Jacob died only a few months after the family's arrival, requiring them to earn a living in their new country though they only spoke Hebrew and Russian. Rothko was forced to learn English and go to work when he was very young, resulting in a lingering sense of bitterness over his lost childhood. He graduated early from Lincoln High School, showing more interest in music than visual art. He was awarded a scholarship to Yale University, but soon found the environment at Yale conservative and exclusionary; he left without graduating in 1923.

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Mark Rothko Biography Continues

Important Art by Mark Rothko

The below artworks are the most important by Mark Rothko - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Crucifixion (1935)
Artwork Images

Crucifixion (1935)

Artwork description & Analysis: Rothko was among several artists invited by Joseph Brummer to exhibit in Paris at the Galerie Bonaparte in November 1936; Crucifixion was one of the paintings included. French critic Waldemar George noted that Rothko's paintings revealed nostalgia for 14th-century Italian art, and that they displayed "an authentic coloristic value." This painting has thematic ties to Renaissance religious painting, but it also carries references to Rembrandt's Lamentation of the Dead Christ (1637): the two crosses in the extreme foreground; the third isolated in the back; and the figure groupings, all echo Rembrandt's picture. This work is signed Rothkowitz, as he did not officially become Rothko until 1940.

Oil on Canvas - Location Unknown

Entrance to Subway (1938)
Artwork Images

Entrance to Subway (1938)

Artwork description & Analysis: This early figurative work demonstrates Rothko's interest in contemporary urban life. The architectural features of the station are sketchily recreated, including the turnstiles and the "N" on the wall. Although the mood of the pictures is softened somewhat by the influence of Impressionism, it reflects many of the artist's feelings towards the modern city. New York City was thought to be soulless and inhuman, and something of that is conveyed here in the anonymous, barely rendered features of the figures.

Oil on canvas - Kate Rothko Prizel Collection

Oedipus (1944)
Artwork Images

Oedipus (1944)

Artwork description & Analysis: Greek mythology was an important theme of Rothko's work in the early 1940s. Oedipus, who is said to have solved of the riddle of the Sphinx, was his father's murderer and his mother's lover. His tale has inspired artists and psychologists alike. For Rothko, he embodied the victim of pride and passion, which the artist believed were at the center of man's destructive nature. As in other representational works of this time, Rothko has dismembered and then recombined his figures so intricately that they became a single mass of human conglomeration. In this way, Rothko sought to suggest how mankind is bound together by tragedy. The figures appear oddly huddled in the corner of a room with strange architecture. The blue and green zigzag pattern recurs in several of his mythological pictures. As Rothko said: "If our titles recall the known myths of antiquity, we have used them again because they are the eternal symbols upon which we must fall back to express basic psychological ideas.. …(they) express something real and existing in ourselves."

Oil on linen - Unknown

More Mark Rothko Artwork and Analysis:

Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea (1944) No. 9 (1947) Four Darks in Red (1958) The Rothko Chapel (1965) Untitled, Black on Gray (1969)

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Mark Rothko
Interactive chart with Mark Rothko's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Marc ChagallMarc Chagall
Joan MiróJoan Miró

Personal Contacts

Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Adolph GottliebAdolph Gottlieb
Joseph SolmanJoseph Solman



Influences on Artist
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko
Years Worked: 1923 - 1970
Influenced by Artist


Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman
Clyfford StillClyfford Still
Morris LouisMorris Louis

Personal Contacts

Dore AshtonDore Ashton
Michelangelo AntonioniMichelangelo Antonioni
Milton AveryMilton Avery


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting

Useful Resources on Mark Rothko

Special Features





artist features

Mark Rothko Achievement Overview

Themes explained via The Art Story Image Comparison Tool

Mark Rothko Jewish Art Overview

Overview of Rothko's achievements in Jewish Modern Art

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography and exhibitions

About Rothko Recomended resource

By Dore Ashton

Mark Rothko: A Biography

By James E. B. Breslin

The Legacy Of Mark Rothko

By Lee Seldes

Mark Rothko, 1903-1970 : A Retrospective (1978) Recomended resource

Guggenheim Exhibition Catalogue
By Diane Waldman and Thomas M. Messer

More Interesting Books about Mark Rothko
Feeding Fury: How Rothko's Seagram Murals Found Their Way to London

By Jonathin Jones
The Guardian
December, 2002

Review of Mark Rothko Exhibition

By Carter B. Horsley
The City Review


Mark Rothko at Tate Modern

What Mark Rothko Thinks about Modern Art & People

in pop culture

Il deserto roso (1964)

Film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, whose aesthetics were heavily influenced by Rothko's work

Mark Rothko Song by Dar Williams

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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