Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from the Collection of the Late Franz Meyer
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

No. 18 (Brown and Black on Plum)

Details
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
No. 18 (Brown and Black on Plum)
signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'AMSTERDAM MARK ROTHKO 1958 #18' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
79½ x 81½ in. (201.9 x 207 cm.)
Painted in 1958.
Provenance
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Franz Meyer, Sr., Zurich
By descent to the present owner
Literature
G. Habasque, "Au-delà de L'Informel," L'Oeil, 59, November 1959, p. 62 (illustrated).
N. Ponente, Modern Painting and Contemporary Trends, Geneva, 1960, p. 143 (illustrated in color).
L. Alloway, "Notes on Rothko," Art International, 6, Summer 1962, p. 91 (illustrated).
J.G. Moore, The Many Ways of Seeing: An Introduction to the Pleasures of Art, Cleveland and New York, 1968, p. 37 (illustrated in color).
D.G. Cleaver, Art: An Introduction, San Diego, 1988, p. 372 (illustrated).
D. Anfam, ark Rothko, The Works on Canvas, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 489, no. 627 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Kassel, Museum Fridericianum, II. documenta '59, Kunst nach 1945, July-October 1959, vol. 1, p. 346, no. 3 (illustrated inverted).
Zurich, Helmhaus, Konkrete Kunst: 50 Jahre Entwicklung, June-August 1960, p. 47, no. 126 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Polariteit, July-September 1961, no. 115 (illustrated).
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Mark Rothko: A Retrospective Exhibition, Paintings 1945-1960, October 1961-January 1962, no. 32 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Basel, Mark Rothko, March-April 1962, no. 33.
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Mark Rothko, April-May 1962, no. 33 (illustrated).
Musée d'Arte Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Mark Rothko, December 1962-January 1963, no. 28.
Kunsthalle Basel, Bilanz Internationale Malerei seit 1950 (Aussellung zum 125jährigen Jubiläum), June-August 1964, no. 112 (illustrated).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Der Raum in der amerikanischen Kunst 1948-1968, The Art of the Real USA 1948-1968, January-February 1969.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Mark Rothko, March-May 1971, no. 66.
Berlinischen Galerie Museum für moderne Kunst, Photographie und Architektur im Martin-Gropius-Bau, Stationen der Moderne Die beduetenden Kunstausstellungen des 20. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, September 1988-January 1989, p. 453, no. 16/45 (illustrated in color).
Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau, Das Gedächtnis der Malerei, August-November 2000.
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, 2001-2010 (on extended loan).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung and Hamburger Kunsthalle, Galerie der Gegenwart, Mark Rothko Retrospective, February-August 2008, pp. 116 and 214, no. 73 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

In 1958, Mark Rothko painted No 18: Black and Brown on Plum, one of a celebrated group of large "dark-toned and meditative" paintings that coincided in both mood and temperament with his much-admired murals for the Seagram building between 1958 and 1959. It was also the only painting chosen to represent Rothko at the influential 1959 Documenta II exhibition in Europe. Entitled Kunst nach 1945, this was, alongside Dorothy Miller's 1958 New Americans exhibition, the first major showing of work by leading New York School artists in Europe to include Rothko - a revelation to an entire generation of young European artists. It even prompted some, like Gerhard Richter, to defect from their native lands behind the Iron Curtain to work in the West.

These exhibitions brought Rothko to the attention of Dr. Franz Meyer, who was to buy No 18: Black and Brown on Plum from Rothko's gallerist, Sidney Janis, in 1959. Meyer was a well-known art historian and museum director. He had discovered Sam Francis as a young student in Paris and persuaded his father to buy several pivotal paintings, most of which are now in museums. Between 1955 and 1961, Meyer was the director of the Kunsthalle, Berne. He organized the first retrospective of the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, a close friend, in Switzerland in 1956. Later, he created the famous Giacometti Room in the Kunsthaus, Basel, after becoming the director of Basel's Kunstmuseum in 1962, a post he held until 1980. Throughout the 1960s, he frequently visited Rothko in New York and in 1962, Meyer organized the hanging of Rothko's retrospective exhibition at the Kunsthalle, Basel. He later also advised the Galerie Beyeler on purchases of Rothko's work. As Meyer recalled, his first encounter with Rothko's paintings was "overwhelming". "Everything started in early 1959 with the arrival of Arnold Rüdlinger's purchase, which formed part of the donation by the Schweizerische National-Verischerungs-Gesellschaft to the Kunstmuseum Basel. I remember how the overwhelming impact of the colors in No. 16 (Red, White and Brown) set completely new standards. The Rothko works included in the exhibition 'New American Painting' that had opened at the Kunsthalle in Basel in April 1958 had seemed regal and majestic but nonetheless cooler, partly because the skirting-board in the room had meant that the paintings could not be hung low enough. The situation was quite different in June 1958 in the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where Rothko's paintings, which were hung close together and reached down almost to the floor, opened themselves up immediately to visitors. "Deeply affected by what I had seen, I took a few friends along to look at the paintings... 'Rothko's the best,' I told a collector (my own father) over the phone that evening and he promptly asked Sidney Janis to send him a painting, one of the dark ones from the gallery show held shortly before in January/February 1958" (F. Meyer, "Encounters with Rothko", Mark Rothko exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2001, p. 19).

Mayer lent No 18: Black and Brown on Plum to the major retrospective of Rothko's work that took place throughout Europe in 1962. He later lent it to the reconstruction of the Kunst nach 1945 exhibition held at the Martin Gropius Bau's survey of the greatest exhibitions of the 20th Century in Berlin in 1988. He loaned it long term to the Fondation Beyeler, where since 2001 it has taken pride of place in the museum's Rothko Room. Rothko expert Oliver Wick more recently selected it for inclusion in the major 2008 retrospective of Rothko's work staged at Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich and the Hamburg Kunsthalle.

Stylistically, the painting belongs to the period when Rothko first adopted the deep somber Dionysian colors that were to dominate his palette more and more, until his 1970 suicide. It relates closely in color and complexity with such works as Four Darks in Red (1958) in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and No. 16 (Red, Brown and Black) (1958) in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Many critics misidentified these darker paintings with Rothko's "dark side" and saw them as symbolizing his last years' increasing depression, but this simplistic, hindsight categorization misinterprets what Rothko intended.

Rothko aimed to create an overwhelming material presence that combined shimmering and almost indefinable planes of color to generate an undeniable, resonant emotive energy. The dark paintings began in 1957 and dominated his oeuvre thereafter, reflecting not so much a "darkening" of Rothko's mood as a deepening of feeling, as Rothko wrestled more profoundly with what he saw as humanity's essentially tragic nature and the wild Dionysian violence at life's heart.

Rothko aimed to establish a pure and direct art that "eliminated all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer." One that embodied what he called a simple "tragic idea". Towards this end, Rothko "heroified" picture making's two fundamental elements - space and color - making them his work's sole protagonists. No 18: Black and Brown on Plum is a drama of emotive color, like of Rothko's mature paintings. It expresses an immediately resonant, unconsciously understood psychological reality, through its simplicity, directness and tense equilibrium.

In evolving this idea, Rothko was profoundly influenced by his Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. Rothko's abstract paintings play on the dualism inherent in human nature that Nietzsche had identified as composed of Apollonian and Dionysian forces. The Apollonian represents the force of becoming, of precise definition, of the sculptural arts and of universal order and the Dionysian represents an unstable and wild force, the musical arts, disintegration and chaos. No 18: Black and Brown on Plum conveys - in its large but still human scale, with its rich dark coloring - the soul's profound, wild Dionysian depths. Rothko painted the work's four rectangles in varying colors, and they vie with one another for dominance, seeming to both emerge from and recede into the painting's background, evoking perpetual struggle. As the eye responds to this shifting play of undefined form and color, the viewer's mind enacts an emotive drama, yet Rothko holds the whole together in a fragile balance using the rich plum background's calm serenity. In this way, he counterpoints Apollonian order and refinement with the darker, more unstable Dionysian energy of the shimmering oblongs, creating an overwhelming sense of the sublime.


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