1903, Dvinsk, Russian Empire (now Latvia) – 1970, New York
Having emigrated to the United States with his family in 1913, Rothko studied art in New Haven and New York. In 1935 he co-founded the artists’ group “The Ten” with Adolph Gottlieb and others. Rothko’s ‘classic’ work began to emerge in the late 1940s: characteristically large rectangular fields of colour with blurred edges that seem to hover over a differently coloured ground. The calmed tension and quiet sublimity of these paintings is achieved by means of contrasting colours which, in combination with the simple forms, are intended to create a meditative experience. According to Rothko, the indeterminacy of the paintings’ inner structure erased memory and liberated recollection. Given Rothko’s Jewish background, mystical connotations can no more be ruled out than the conscious reference to the tradition of the sublime in European painting. Rothko regarded his paintings as living organisms: for him, colour was something deeply human and sensuous, but at the same time it served as the gateway to transcendental experience. He also felt an affinity to Monet within the colourist tradition. This is reflected by his method of creating hovering expanses of colour, which can be related to the interior space of Monet’s famous water lily paintings. Rothko committed suicide in 1970 in New York.