Mark Rothko (born Marcus Rothkowitz (1903-1970) was the fourth child of a Dvinsk pharmacist Jacob Rothkowitz. The family lived in Shosseinaya Street that started near the river Daugava and further down turned into a road leading to St. Petersburg, the birthplace of his mother, Anna Goldin. The children remembered their father as a person with high moral principles, an idealist, intellectual and philanthropist, who shared medicines to poor people free of charge. Rothko had been responsive to music since the time he was a boy and he remained so throughout his life. Rothko could play both mandolin and piano by ear, claiming to be self-taught. Perhaps, that’s why the first gift of the Rothko family to Daugavpils city community was a drawing by his early time –A Young Man Playing Mandolin. Like his father and sister, Rothko was an avid reader (the family owned a home library – more than 300 volumes of Russian and foreign literature) and relatives recall that he liked to draw “particularly when he was supposed to be doing something else”.

Albert and Sonia standing at the left; Marcus and Moise seated at the right, Dvinsk, 1912, Kenneth Rabin.

All the children in the family got secular education. Marcus was the only child who attended the heder at the synagogue, which meant strict discipline, reading in Hebrew and interpretation of complicated texts from Talmud. Although Marcus was furiously resisting doing that, his knowledge on Mystical Judaism inspired him to write poems on the Old Testament themes in his youth time and later became one of the main sources of his painting.

To compare to Marc Chagall or Jean Jacques Rousseau, Rothko not so often reminisced in paint or words about his boyhood in the native town. His daughter Kate observed that he “was sort of closed about it”. He did tell her of being allowed to sleep on top of the brick stove and about ice-skating to school on the Dvina River, about frequent family picnics on the river banks and trips by the river boat to the left bank for visiting Fairs with merry-go-round. It’s easy to notice that his best memories were connected to the river. Talking with his friend artist Robert Motherwell, Rothko recollected the glorious Russian sunsets over the River and spacious flat horizontal planes. (photo of the Memorial Plague – Nikita)

It is from here that he borrowed this illusive northern light, dispersed like curling mist in his classical works. Having left for America with his family at the age of 10, Rothko became an outstanding painter of the 10th century, the founder of abstract expressionism. Up to Rothko’s friend and biographer Dore Ashton, he never stopped identifying himself with Russian culture and feeling his inextricable internal connection with his birthplace even being the rest of his life very far from it.

Author: F. Zaletilo

View of Shosseynaya street, Dvinsk
Photographs of Old Dvinsk from Daugavpils Local History and Arts Muzeum fund.