Fascinating Facts about Mark Rothko on Display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton

11/27/20233 min read

Mystical reverie, religious contemplation, meditative ecstasy, colorful intoxication... It's challenging to find a word to describe the works of Mark Rothko. They impose themselves and completely absorb us. The gaze is captured by large blocks of color, without it being possible to clearly identify the visual emotion created by the brushstrokes of the American painter.

After visiting the Mark Rothko exhibition last week, which runs until April 2, here are 7 facts you need to know about one of the emblematic artists of the 20th century, a symbol of abstract expressionism.

#1 Mark Rothko was not his real name After pogroms and emigration, with interrupted studies at Yale, where his religion put him on the sidelines, Rothko did not escape anti-Semitism. Despite his brilliant academic performance and integration into American society since he arrived at the age of ten, he had to wait until 1938 to be naturalized, largely due to the authorities' suspicion of European Jewish immigrants. Furthermore, the stage name he adopts aims precisely to erase his Hebrew origins: while the United States remains neutral at the beginning of World War II, Nazism is spreading. Marcus Rotkovitch officially becomes Mark Rothko in January 1940. A name that sounds American and will go down in history.

#2 Rothko was a teacher for children After a brief stint at Yale, Rothko settled in New York in 1923 to become an artist. He had a respectable career as a figurative painter, with his first solo exhibition in 1938. His style at the time was inspired by Cézanne, his teacher Hans Hofmann, and his other mentor, the American cubist Max Weber, before evolving into surrealism. Always inclined towards study and transmission, Rothko also worked as a drawing teacher, teaching children at the Jewish Center in Brooklyn from 1929. It was an activity he enjoyed, continuing it until 1952, even when he could already live off his art.

#3 He is a prominent member of Color Field painting It was Clément Greenberg who first identified the Color Field painting movement, a branch of abstract art that literally means "painting of color fields." However, Mark Rothko rejected any label he considered "alienating." For him, color was only "the instrument" of a more important creation.

#4 $87 million This was the price achieved by the work "Orange, Red, Yellow" (1961) at an auction in May 2012.

#5 He could not stand the proximity of other canvases Rothko is demanding in the presentation of his giant canvases, refusing to let them be disturbed by the proximity of works by other artists or even by the overly strong presence of background walls, preferring, for example, to have them hung very low, almost at ground level. The artist is pleased when, in 1960, collector Duncan Phillips dedicates a "Rothko Room," a set of rooms dedicated to his works within the Phillips Collection. A space that Rothko appreciates as a "chapel" and precedes the "Rothko Chapel," inaugurated a year after the artist's death in Houston, Texas, in 1971.

#6 Mark Rothko saw himself as a "myth-maker" "The absence of myth cannot deprive man of the desire for heroic action," as Mark Rothko writes in "The Reality of the Artist" (published in 2004 by his son Christopher Rothko, from a manuscript from the 1940s). In his long journey towards abstraction and even the adoption of purely non-representational painting in 1949, Rothko seeks to fill the spiritual void left by scientific advances. The artist falls in love with mythology but also with Greek tragedy, and even more with Nietzsche's interpretation of it in "The Dionysian Vision of the World" - one of Rothko's bedside books. Behind the luminous expanses of his large compositions, should we see reminiscences of Apollo's sun?

#7 An aneurysm that prevented him from painting large formats led to his suicide Rothko took his own life in 1970 in New York. To the question "Why did he commit suicide?" one of his friends, John Hurt Fischer, answers: "I've heard various explanations: he was in poor health, hadn't produced anything for six months, felt rejected by an art world whose fickle tastes had turned to younger and lesser painters. Perhaps there's a bit of all that; I don't know. But my intuition is that his old rage was one of those causes. For it was the justified rage of a man who saw himself destined to paint temples and saw that his canvases were considered only as vulgar commodities."

To explore the exhibition in a unique way, Fondation Louis Vuitton invites you to a musical night visit on Friday, December 1st.