Mark Rothko was the first in the abstract expressionism Movement.

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What defines abstract expressionism?

The abstract expressionism movement was a broad movement in American painting that began in the late 1940s and became a dominant trend in Western painting during the 1950s. The most prominent American Abstract Expressionist painters were Jackson PollockWillem de KooningFranz Kline, and Mark Rothko.

Mark Rothko:

Mark Rothko, a renowned American painter, left an indelible mark on the art world with his unique approach to abstract expressionism. This article delves into various facets of Rothko’s life, from his humble beginnings and artistic transformation to his breakthrough in the art scene and lasting legacy. Join us as we explore the life and work of this extraordinary artist.


Born Marcus Rothkowitz on September 25, 1903, in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia), Mark Rothko was the youngest of four siblings. Sonia, Albert, and Moise. His parents were Jacob and Anna Goldin Rothkowitz, and Rothko was raised in a well-educated family with Zionist leanings. At age ten, Rothko, his mother, and his older sister immigrated to America to join his father and brothers, who had previously settled in Portland, Oregon. Mark Rothko’s parents were Jacob Rothkowitz, a pharmacist, and Anna Goldin, a seamstress.



Rothko attended Yale University in 1921, where he studied English, French, European history, elementary mathematics, physics, biology, economics, the history of philosophy, and general psychology. His initial intention was to become an engineer or an attorney.  He later enrolled in the Parsons The New School for Design, where one of his instructors was Arshile Gorky. He was also taught by Cubist artist Max Weber, who was part of the French avant-garde movement, Modernism; under Weber’s tutelage, Rothko began to view art as a tool of emotional and religious expression. In 1923, Rothko gave up his studies and moved to New York City.

Rothko’s Influences:

Rothko’s studies at the New York League exposed him to European modernist movements, which greatly influenced his artistic style. Rothko’s early works were influenced by surrealism and mythological themes. However, during the 1940s, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso’s use of bold colors and simplified forms inspired Rothko to explore the expressive potential of abstraction.

Another significant influence was Rothko’s interest in mythology and ancient art, particularly the mythological paintings of Titian and the frescoes of Pompeii. These artistic references helped him better understand art’s symbolic and spiritual aspects. Other significant influences of Rothko: Michelangelo, Rembrandt van Rijn, Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb

These artistic references helped him better understand art’s symbolic and spiritual aspects; experimenting with large color blocks, combined with Rothko’s introspection and search for spiritual meaning, led to his exploration of abstraction and the developing of his iconic style. This shift in tone was motivated by his desire to create an emotional connection between his artwork and the viewer.

Marriage and Family Life:


Rothko married Edith Sachar in 1932 .However, their marriage ended in divorce in 1944. Rothko married Mary Alice Beistle in Linden, New Jersey, on March 31, 1945. Their two children, Kate and Christopher Rothko were born in 1950 and 1963 respectively.1958. Rothko and his wife Mell separated on New Year’s Day, 1969; Rothko moved permanently into his studio.

Rothko Style:

Rothko’s artistic style is associated with Abstract Expressionism, a movement that emerged in the mid-20th century that emphasized spontaneous, non-representational forms of expression.

Rothko’s art was driven by his exploration of existential themes and the human condition. He believed that color could evoke profound emotions and transcend the limitations of words, leading him to employ vibrant hues and create immersive experiences through his paintings.

Rothko’s paintings are known for their large, rectangular canvases filled with vibrant and intense colors. He often created fields of color that seemed to hover or float on the canvas, creating a sense of depth and contemplation. His use of color was crucial in conveying emotional and spiritual experiences, as he believed that color could evoke deep feelings and transcendence.

Rothko At the MoMA:

Rothko’s works in the MoMA collection exemplify his signature style of painting. They invite viewers to immerse themselves in the expansive fields of color and engage with the emotional and psychological aspects of the artwork. Rothko’s paintings can provoke introspection, meditation, and a sense of the sublime.

Some of his renowned work.

Some specific artworks by Mark Rothko that are showcased in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) include:

1. “No. 61 (Rust and Blue)” (1953)

abstract espressionism movement
2. “Orange and Yellow” (1956)
abstract expressionism

3. “White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose)” (1950)


4. “Black on Maroon” (1958)

Abstract Expressionism

5. “No. 3/No. 13 (Magenta, Black, Green on Orange)” (1949).

Mark Kothko

These are just a few examples, and the MoMA may have additional works by Rothko in their collection.

Pivotal Moments and Recognition:

Rothko gained recognition in the art world during the 1950s with his large-scale paintings exhibited at prominent galleries and at the Museum of Modern Art. The 1952 “Fifteen Americans” show curated by Dorothy Canning Miller at the Museum of Modern Art formally showcased abstract artists and included works by Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes. In 1954, he exhibited in a solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met art dealer Sidney Janis, who represented Pollock and Franz Kline. In 1955, Fortune magazine wrote an article claiming Rothko’s paintings been a good investment, this article raised his sales and the value of his work.


It’s fascinating to see how Rothko’s art played a pivotal role in shaping the abstract expressionist movement. His work had a profound impact on his contemporaries, like Pollock and Newman, and helped foster a sense of community among them.

Rothko’s exceptional use of color and composition in his captivating abstract expressionism art has solidified his legacy as a pioneer in the art world. His innovative contributions continue to inspire artists globally, making him a timeless figure in art history.

Tragic End:

Tragically, Mark Rothko took his own life on February 25, 1970, in New York City. Rothko’s assistant found the artist lying dead on the floor in his bathroom in a pool of blood. He had taking barbiturates and cut his arms with a razor blade. He was 66 years old. Rothko was in and out of depression, his death rocked the art community, leaving behind a void that mourned the loss of an artistic genius. Nevertheless, his body of work continues to captivate audiences and provoke contemplation.

Final Thought

Mark Rothko’s journey from humble beginnings to artistic greatness is a testament to his unwavering passion and dedication. Through his innovative use of color and form, he transformed the art world and left an indelible mark on contemporary art. Rothko’s legacy lives on, inspiring artists and art enthusiasts alike to explore the depths of human emotions through the power of abstract expression.