The unbearable brightness of colour

Marcus Rothkowitz was a painter, born in Russia whom eventually moved to New York City. Just like so many of his (Jewish) peers did for obvious reasons. He went on to be one of the most famous and legendary modernistic painters of the twentieth century, by then using the alias Mark Rothko.

His large, bright and immensely colourful paintings have been said to lead tot a religious experience under those who get to see them in real life. Rothko started out as a figurative painter but as life and art progressed he diminished his method. Paintings with usually only two or three colour fields became his gospel.

For Rothko painting was a way to deal with the atrocities of the twentieth century and his highly turbulent personal life. For this man, colour was a form of grammar, but also at time too much to handle. Rothko was a famously difficult man. Best examples are perhaps his so-called Seagram Murals. The series of paintings started out as an assignment by the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. When Rothko visited the dining room in which the works would have to be displayed he decided on the spot that the hotel was ‘not worthy’ of his accomplishments. He kept them in storage until after his death by suicide, in 1973.

The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (The Netherlands) currently hosts a unique exhibition about the man and his work. A rare opportunity to see so many of his works together, including some of his figurative paintings from the early stages of his career. Also on display is the very last painting Rothko made. It consists of one big red colour field. It seems to show that for some there can actually be too much colour on the world.

Left, Mark Rothko in studio (undated photo). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Top, Untitled (1953); No. 14 (White and Greens in Blue, 1957); Untitled(1949) by Mark Rothko. Located in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. [Photo by Eric Wilcox]

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