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Top 10 Most Famous Paintings by Mark Rothko
Dawit Abeza
Top 10 Most Famous Paintings by Mark Rothko

Top 10 Most Famous Paintings by Mark Rothko

Who is Mark Rothko?

Mark Rothko, is an acclaimed American painter known for his host of abstract paintings. He is considered one of the leading figures who has contributed to the growth of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Rothko became renowned for his compositions that delineated square shapes with glowing colors, that invigorated profound emotions in the observer. He had many paintings that were strongly emotional. Rothko's style was alluded to as Colorfield Painting.

Mark Rothko Famous Artworks:

  1. Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko
  2. No. 61 (Rust and Blue) by Mark Rothko
  3. Entrance to Subway by Mark Rothko
  4. Green and Maroon by Mark Rothko
  5. Green and Tangerine on Red by Mark Rothko
  6. Blue Green and Brown by Mark Rothko
  7. No.14 by Mark Rothko
  8. White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko
  9. Orange Red and Yellow by Mark Rothko
  10. Four Darks in Red by Mark Rothko 

The case for Mark Rothko


Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko

Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko

Black on Maroon is an enormous unframed oil painting, which is painted on a horizontal rectangular canvas. The base color is a profound maroon. This is overlaid with an enormous black rectangular shape, which encases two slimmer, vertical maroon rectangular shapes.

The black paint frames two maroon rectangular shapes while the right edges of the painting are feathered with an obscuring maroon. Various shades of black have been utilized inside the maroon shapes. Accents of red acrylic paint were touched onto the lower-left corner. With time these have gotten progressively evident as the shades inside the maroon portion of the canvas fade.

This painting comes from one of three series of canvases painted by Rothko in 1958–1959 in response to a commission for murals for the small dining room of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The Four Seasons, one of the smartest restaurants in the city, is in the Seagram Building, a celebrated classic modern skyscraper on Park Avenue designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. As he worked on the commission Rothko's conception of the scheme became more and more somber and he abandoned the first series as being too light in mood.

He then adopted a palette of black on maroon and dark red on maroon, and compositional structures of open, rectangular, window-like forms, rather than his usual arrangement of uniform rectangular patches, used for the first series. He later said 'After I had been at work for some time I realized that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo's walls in the staircase room of the Medicean Library in Florence.

Completed in: 1958

Style: Washington Color School

Measurements: 266.7 cm × 381.2 cm

Location: Tate Modern, London

Medium: Oil paint, acrylic paint, glue tempera and pigment on canvas

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No. 61 (Rust and Blue) by Mark Rothko

No. 61 (Rust and Blue) by Mark Rothko

This art piece depicts no images. Instead, the entire canvas is covered in hues of brilliant blues, slate grays, and purple-brown rusts. Rothko uses the layering of these colors to create what he called an “inner light”, an almost transient luminosity that made his works look as though the color blocks were floating outside the canvas itself.

It can be said that Rothko’s paintings are more about space, rather than about the dramatic colors that saturate them.

Rust and Blue actually feature multiple layers of oils which served to add a luminous effect to the key parts of the composition. As different as it may appear to traditional art, some academics have actually drawn comparisons with the work of Titian, and specifically, his painting titled Noli me tangere, from 1514, which also used a similar technique of layering paint for a rich finish.

Completed in: 1953

Style: Washington Color School

Measurements: 292.73 cm × 233.68 cm

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Medium: Oil on canvas

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Entrance to Subway by Mark Rothko

Entrance to Subway by Mark Rothko

The Metro series of the late 30s are the testimony of the alienation, loneliness, and incommunicability of modern man and contain in them the melancholy of the same author: commuters who wander like lost souls in a tragic urban everyday life and who they attract the viewer for some disturbing element. Colors begin to "interpret"

This early figurative work demonstrates Rothko's interest in contemporary urban life. The architectural features of the station are sketchily recreated, including the turnstiles and the "N" on the wall. Although the mood of the pictures is softened somewhat by the influence of Impressionism, it reflects many of the artist's feelings towards the modern city. New York City was thought to be soulless and inhuman, and something of that is conveyed here in the anonymous, barely rendered features of the figures.

Completed in: 1938

Style: Expressionism, History Painting

Measurements: 87 cm x 117 cm

Location: Sammlung Kate Rothko Prizel

Medium: Oil on canvas

Michelangelo Most Famous Paintings


Green and Maroon by Mark Rothko

Green and Maroon by Mark Rothko

The artist chooses to slightly darker his main colors in this painting, making the finish somewhat somber. The blue and white lines also separate the main blocks into different parts, reducing their effectiveness and visual strength. It appears that most likely these lines were added after his initial tones of green and maroon, perhaps an afterthought as he would often not pre-plan his work. Much of contemporary art was about being spontaneous, so this was nothing new. He would use these same tones again elsewhere, but never with this peculiar formation of lines around the edges, which went against his normal technique of framing his canvases within the composition.

Completed in: 1953

Style: Abstract expressionism, Color Field, Washington Color School

Measurements: 232 cm x 139 cm

Location: The Phillips Collection

Medium: Oil on canvas

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Green and Tangerine on Red by Mark Rothko

Green and Tangerine on Red by Mark Rothko

This painting is composed of two massive rectangles, one dark, and one light. Rothko's once asserted that "the striking tangerine tone of the lower section of this art piece could symbolize the normal, happier side of living; and in proportion, the dark, blue-green, rectangular measure above it could stand for the black clouds or worries that always hang over us." This statement expresses the opposing emotional states that Rothko's works can evoke. Through countless color manipulations executed on a large scale - an approach comparable to that of a composer arranging musical notes - he created powerful, timeless absolutes of human sensation ranging from exultation to torment.

Completed in: 1956

Style: Color Field, Abstract expressionism, Washington Color School

Measurements: 237 cm x 167 cm

Location: The Phillips Collection

Medium: Oil on canvas

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Blue Green and Brown by Mark Rothko

Blue Green and Brown by Mark Rothko

By 1950 Rothko had reduced the number of floating rectangles to two, three, or four and aligned them vertically against a colored ground, arriving at his signature style.

In Blue, Green, and Brown color and structure are inseparable: the forms themselves consist of color alone, and their translucency establishes a layered depth that complements and vastly enriches the vertical architecture of the composition. Variations in saturation and tone as well as hue evoke an elusive yet almost palpable realm of shallow space. Color, structure, and space combine to create a unique presence. In this respect, Rothko stated that the large scale of these canvases was intended to contain or envelop the viewer--not to be "grandiose," but "intimate and human."

Completed in: 1952

Style: Abstract Art

Measurements: 81.99 cm x 65 cm

Location: Private Collection

Medium: Oil on canvas

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No.14 by Mark Rothko

No.14 by Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko's search to express profound emotion through painting culminated in his now-signature compositions of richly colored squares filling large canvases, evoking what he referred to as "the sublime." One of the pioneers of Color Field Painting, Rothko's abstract arrangements of shapes, ranging from the slightly surreal biomorphic ones in his early works to the dark squares and rectangles in later years, are intended to evoke the metaphysical through viewers' communion with the canvas in a controlled setting. "I'm not an abstractionist," he once said. "I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on."

Just like Composition 10, Pier and Ocean (1915) of Piet Mondrian brings the Cubist style to the brink of total abstraction, with a view of a pier jutting into the North Sea. Mark Rothko's Number 14, inspires thoughts of the spirit by similar means, stripping the picture of direct references to the outside world.

Completed in: 1960

Style: Washington Color School

Measurements: 290 cm x 268 cm

Location: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Medium: Oil on canvas

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White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko

White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko

The painting is from top to bottom, a yellow horizontal rectangle, a black horizontal stripe, a narrow white rectangular band and the bottom half is lavender. The top half of the rose ground is deeper in color and the bottom half is pale. White Center is often referred to as White Center Mark Rothko continued to simplify the compositional elements of his paintings. In 1950, he began to divide the canvas into horizontal bands of color. Despite the frontal composition and absence of spatial illusionism in these works, the broad bands of color appear simultaneously to float in front of the picture plane and to merge with the color field upon which they are placed, as in White Center

A luminosity results from the repeated layering of thin washes of paint, which allows some underpainting to show through the upper coats. In each work of this period, Rothko sought only subtle variations in proportion and color, yet achieved within this limited format a broad range of emotions and moods.

Completed in: 1950

Style: Color Field, Washington Color School

Measurements: 206 cm x 141 cm

Location: The Royal Family of Qatar

Medium: Oil on canvas

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Orange Red and Yellow by Mark Rothko

Orange Red and Yellow by Mark Rothko

Rothko changed the color schemes of his work during different periods but warm tones were amongst his most frequently used, with Orange and Yellow being another example of that. He would also use dark tones during the later parts of his career as well as experimenting with other colors such as rust, blue, and varying tones grey at different times. He wanted us to essentially walk into his paintings, to truly feel a part of them, and this is why he worked on much larger canvases. He would also carefully plan how they were hung at the various exhibitions to ensure that the correct experience was given to viewers.

Orange, Red, Yellow was over two meters tall and wide, ensuring that is would be wider than most people looking at, enhancing their ability to drift into the piece, so long as they took enough time to do so. He was not an artist who could be appreciated with a brief look at his work.

The rectangles within this painting do not extend to the edges of the canvas and appear to hover just over its surface. Heightening this sensation is the effect of chromatic afterimage. Staring at each colored segment individually affects the perception of those adjacent to it. The red-orange center of the painting tints the yellow above it with just a bit of green. The yellow above seems to tint the orange with blue. Despite these color relationships, Rothko did not want his pictures appreciated solely for their spectral qualities. He said, forty-two years after his death, Marc Rothko sets records at a Christie's auction, which, again, has its own reasons to walk down the pages of history.

Completed in: 1961

Style: Abstract art

Measurements: 236.22 cm × 208.28 cm

Location: Private collection

Medium: Acrylic on canvas 

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Four Darks in Red by Mark Rothko

Four Darks in Red by Mark Rothko

Completed in: 1958

Style: Abstract art

Measurements: 259.1 cm × 294.6 cm 

Location: whitney museum of american art

Medium: Oil on canvas 

The case for Mark Rothko

Rothko moved away from gestural painting, which expresses a spontaneous need to throw color on the canvas with implications as profound as the gesture itself is simple.

The two main features of his paintings, almost always large in size, are the division of the surface into often horizontal rectangles and the use of color which is distributed evenly over these spaces until the trace of the brushstroke almost disappears. Both of these compositional choices serve to make the viewer's contemplation more intimate, allowing a sort of perspective flight in color.

Rothko believed that color could arouse strong emotions if the brushstroke had been absent and therefore the color on the canvas appeared with absolute compactness. Color, helped by light, enters into a relationship with the soul and has unexpected emotional consequences.

Mark Rothko's works are considered indecipherable or difficult to understand. Their meaning requires an in-depth study of the genesis of the work of the American painter, who throughout his life has always preached the need to achieve, picture after picture, an immediate clarity of display, thanks to spiritual and artistic growth. 

Mark Rothko Paintings 


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