MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)
MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)
MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)
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Ivan & Genevieve Reitman: A Life in Pictures
MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)

Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink)

MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)
Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink)
signed 'MARK ROTHKO' (on the reverse)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
33 ½ x 25 ¾ in. (85.1 x 65.4 cm.)
Painted in 1968.
PaceWildenstein, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991
New York, PaceWildenstein, Bonnard/Rothko: Color and Light, February-March 1997, pp. 66-67 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Mark Rothko, May-November 1998, pp. 218-219, no. 104 (illustrated).
Further details
This work is being considered for inclusion in the forthcoming Mark Rothko Online Resource and Catalogue Raisonné of works on paper, compiled by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

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Lot Essay

Such a rapt, beaming warmth
this offering aglow with a dream of leaping
from swells and drifts of sun flush
from scratches of soil at the heels
soaring into life
tender as an open palm.”
Red, Orange on Pink by Rothko, Caroline Natzler, 2005

Mark Rothko’s sumptuous late work Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) represents a final flourish in the life of one of twentieth-century’s greatest artists. Here, his signature color fields, composed of daring brushstrokes, are transcendent and contemplative; both weightless and earthbound, they sit somewhere between air, light, and the soil. The sense of drama and energy engendered in paintings such as this was summarized by Dore Ashton, critic, writer and Rothko’s frequent interlocutor, who offered a poetic assessment of her colleague’s final paintings, “His darkness at the end did allude to the light of the theater in which, when the lights are gradually dimmed, expectation mounts urgently” (D. Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189). In the same private collection for nearly thirty years, this painting was included in the artist’s seminal 1998 retrospective at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., which later traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1999).

Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) is among the artist’s most intimately scaled works, offering a chance to witness his unique process in uncommon detail. Instead of the immersion offered by his immense canvases, here we see Rothko at his most radically open. As his health began to fail, his doctors ordered him to not paint larger than a yard in height so as not to strain himself. Rather than a lively pink or a pure cadmium red, Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) is almost fall-like. Moreover, an interplay of scale is important here, since, according to the artist, the paintings created during this period have all the emotional impact and grandeur of a mural. As Dore Ashton recalled of a visit she made to his studio in the spring of 1969, Rothko was immensely proud of his recent work: “He named the exact number with pride, as though to say, ‘with all my trouble, I was able to do this,’” she recounted. “Many are very haunting…I see them as consequent to the [Seagram Building] murals” (D. Ashton, quoted in J. E. B. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography, New York, 1993, p. 511).

Indeed, appreciating this period requires discernment that is necessary to fully understanding this Abstract Expressionist giant. As Rothko’s son Christopher recalls, “When the public really started to embrace those brightly colored works,” the artist was concerned that they were “too easy and people weren’t understanding the more serious emotional push-pull underneath the color combinations,” (C. Rothko, quoted in H. Sheets, “Mark Rothko’s Dark Palette Illuminated,” The New York Tines, November 2, 2016). Relatedly, in a now famous anecdote from 1968, Rothko told his dealer that a collector had come to his studio asking to buy “a happy painting, a red and yellow and orange painting, not a sad painting” The artist replied, “Red, yellow, orange—aren’t those the colors of an inferno?”(Ibid). Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) gives us a chance to peer into this inferno. And although Rothko’s final years were characterized by tragedy, Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) evinces that the “late paintings are also a reminder that, like his art, Rothko’s final years had moments of luminous energy” (S. Sherwin, “Living colour: how Mark Rothko found light in his dark final year,” The Guardian, October 4, 2021).

Unlike Rothko’s final series of Black-Form Paintings, and the Black on Grey paintings of 1969-1970, Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) does not abandon color altogether. The painting’s titular colors intermingle subtly, but not without heft. If Rothko’s paintings are always in some way about meetings and juxtapositions, the present work evokes not a collision but the merging of quiet waves. Thus Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) recalls the undulating landscapes of the Impressionists, who likewise used tender gradations of color to great effect, as with the reddish-orange tones of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s The Skiff (La Yole) (1875, National Gallery of Art, London) or Claude Monet’s Argenteuil (1875, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris). Radiating an almost crimson glow, Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) also hearkens to Rothko’s legendary commission for the Seagram Building in New York (1958-1959), which have become central to the artist’s lore.

These late creations, with their dense unmodulated surfaces, do not flicker with light; rather, they generate a strong, constant glow.
Bonnie Clearwater and Dore Aston

Critics have lauded Rothko’s late work as his “most remarkable” (B. O’Doherty, Mark Rothko: The Last Paintings, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1993, n.p.). The late Tate Modern curator and Rothko scholar Achim Borchardt-Hume asserted that these works represent “a reassertion of a painter at the height of his powers” (A. Borchardt-Hume, “Mark Rothko at Tate Modern,” Tate Shots, October 15, 2008). Finally, Dore Ashton seems to speak directly of Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) when she argues, “These late creations, with their dense unmodulated surfaces, do not flicker with light; rather, they generate a strong, constant glow” (B. Clearwater and D. Ashton, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, exh. cat., American Federation of the Arts, New York, 1984, p. 54-55).

Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) proves that Rothko’s sensitivity to color, light, and form never dimmed. When he worked at a smaller scale, it was not just out of necessity. With the present work, we can feel the emotional plenitude of Rothko’s brushstrokes with even more intensity. Untitled (Red, Orange on Pink) is a glimmering vision of a storied artistic legacy, and it takes us right into the rich embers of the artist’s mind and legacy. There is no doubt that Rothko’s final output, epitomized by the present lot, is essential to comprehending the true breadth of his contribution to art history.

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