The fact that the world-renowned 20th-century American artist Mark Rothko (25.11.1903-25.02.1970) was born in the Russian Empire town of Dvinsk (present-day Daugavpils) is little discussed in international circles.
At the age of five, Marcus Rothkowitz was sent to study the basics of Talmud at a Jewish religious elementary school. Mystical Judaism inspired the young Marcus to write Old Testament-themed poetry, and it became a key inspiration for him later on. In 1913, with his mother and elder sister Sofia, the 10-year-old boy undertook a 12-day sea voyage to reunite with his father, who had already immigrated to the USA. The Rothkowitz family settled in Portland, Oregon.
Having graduated top of his class from Lincoln High School, Marcus Rothkowitz gained a scholarship to Yale University (1921). The young man’s initial aspiration was to become and engineer or a lawyer, but two years later he moved to New York, where he attended drama classes and studied at the Art Students League under Max Weber (1924-1927). The works by French postimpressionist Paul Cézanne, surrealists Max Ernst and Joan Miró, and fauvist Henri Matisse in particular had a great impact on his artistic development.
In 1940, Marcus Rothkowitz changed his first and last names, becoming Mark Rothko. Rothko was a central figure in the post-war painting scene in the USA and, together with Paul Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnet Newman and Clifford Still represented the so-called New York school of the abstract expressionism movement. Like other artists of his generation, Rothko explored several stylistic directions until, in the mid-20th century, he arrived at his own unique style. Throughout 1920s and 1930s, he created hundreds of figurative works on paper and canvas, including nudes, portraits, interiors with human figures, cityscapes and landscapes. Around 1940, Rothko began to dip in antique mythology and depth psychology, read Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Gustav Jung and Søren Kierkegaard. For almost a decade, his works were created in the surrealist stylistics, featuring images from antique tragedies as a response to the tragic wartime events in Europe. Around 1947, Rothko eradicated all figurative elements from his artwork and evolved a personal style: two or three rectangular-like shapes, hovering above and interacting with one another against a field.
One of the essential features of Rothko’s paintings is their ability to evoke strong emotional responses within viewers, which mirror simple and complex, personal and universal concepts by means of a reduced yet highly potent visual language.
In 1961, New York Museum of Modern Art organized a one-man show of Mark Rothko, which was the culmination of his creative work. This exhibition toured all major European cities. In 1962, the artist completed his series of murals for Harvard University. In 1964, he began work on a mural commission at the Houston Chapel in Texas, which was unveiled posthumously in 1971. Mark Rothko passed away in 1970 in New York. His work can be found in some of the most acclaimed art galleries worldwide.