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Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

Untitled (Gray and Mauve)

Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Untitled (Gray and Mauve)
with signature and date 'Mark Rothko 1969' (on the reverse)
acrylic on paper laid down on canvas
46½ x 33¼ in. (118.1 x 84.5 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


Robert Manley
Robert Manley


The following work is being considered for possible inclusion in the forthcoming Mark Rothko catalogue raisonné of works on paper, compiled by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

As a coda to an oeuvre premised on the "tragic and timeless" nature of man's fate, Rothko's late paintings are ultimate vessels of the artist's intentions. Executed in the final years of his life, this exclusive group of works epitomizes the artist's career-long quest to express the heart of the human condition, the eternal wretchedness of its hopeful beginnings and blighted ends. Pitting contrasting colors of light and dark in tense equilibrium, these large-scale paintings stage epic life and death battles.

Viewed along the trajectory of the artist's prolific output, Untitled (Gray and Mauve), 1969, a work on paper mounted on canvas was created in concurrence with Rothko's Black on Gray paintings and possesses all the turbulent profundity of the artist's late career. A fitting final act, Untitled (Gray and Mauve) is an uncanny materialization of a statement that he made twenty years prior to their creation. "The progression of a painter's work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be towards clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer" (M. Rothko, quoted in Writings on Art, New Haven, 2006, p. 65). A departure from the classic format that he arrived upon in 1950, Rothko spread the two, bifurcated opaque blocks of color to the surface edge creating a provocative, stark collision of light and dark, while maintaining the nuance and sensuality of the earlier classical abstractions. As light and darkness, form and formlessness, creation and destruction come into play in this rigorous oppositional setup, the universal dualities of existence take form.

In light of the despondency and physical afflictions the artist suffered in the latter part of his career, it is romantic to regard Rothko's Untitled (Gray and Mauve), as an expression of a sinking heart, a disenchantment of a depressed soul that foreshadows the artist's suicide. However, facile conclusions neglect the raw fortitude and revered, artistic lineage found within its depths. Untitled (Gray and Mauve) is akin to a final inquisition -- a tentative denouement -- of a willfully questioning and boldly unafraid heart.