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Untitled
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Untitled

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About the item

“Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it after, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.” Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted…,” Possibilities, New York, No. 1, Winter 1947-48, p. 84 Captivating and mesmeric through the sheer exuberance of Mark Rothko’s most celebrated palette and a deeply enriching pictorial architecture, Untitled belongs to perhaps the most pivotal moment of the artist’s career. Rothko's challenge, to both himself and his audience, was to engage not only the eye, but also the mind and even the spirit, and the present work is a particularly moving exemplar of this ambition. The composition is compartmentalized in three principle rectangular fields of golden yellow, brilliant scarlet and deep pink on a field of glowing orange, all indeterminately concluded by feathered edges that forge an exceptionally vibrant occupation of the pictorial space. While the overtly optimistic connotations of this ebullient palette immediately instigate a positive and even inspirational response, as with all great paintings by the artist there is no single aspect to this work’s character and the viewer may concurrently sense a deeper, more portentous tone, the duality of which invests this work with a supreme sophistication. In a 1959 Life magazine article, Dorothy Seiberling described one of the artist’s paintings and touched on his mystifying method: “Just as the hues of a sunset prompt feelings of elation mingled with sadness or unease as the dark shapes of night close in, so Rothko's colors stir mixed feelings of joy, gloom, anxiety or peace. Though the forms in the painting seem simple at first glance, they are in fact subtly complex. Edges fade in and out like memories; horizontal bands of ‘cheerful’ brightness have ‘ominous’ overtones of dark colors.” (Dorothy Seiberling, ‘Abstract Expressionism, Part II,’ Life, November 16, 1959, p. 82) Untitled reverberates both optically and intellectually, engaging us with the artist's desire to create an aesthetic language that exceeds the very boundaries of painting, encompassing a transcendent, deeply affecting relationship between the viewer and the object. Untitled addresses the viewer on a scale that is immediately familiar and satisfying, and the irresistible chromatic aura acts as a portal onto Rothko’s theater of reflection and discovery. A stunning jewel of Rothko’s corpus from the heart of his most exalted period, this work is manifestation indeed of the artist’s belief that "the progression of a painter's work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer....To achieve this clarity is, inevitably to be understood." (Mark Rothko, ‘Statement on His Attitude in Painting,’ The Tiger's Eye, no. 9, October 1949, p. 114)\nRothko's revolutionary abstract paintings are deeply seeded in a profound art historical appreciation, as he both looked to the past for inspiration and forged ahead into an uncharted future. The artist’s profoundly sophisticated understanding of the possibilities of color was shaped in part by the influence of the work of Henri Matisse. Indeed, it has been often commented that Matisse's painting The Red Studio from 1911 encouraged Rothko to explore the possibility of creating paintings from powerful hues alone. Rothko also deeply admired the French painter Pierre Bonnard, and no doubt would have attended the artist's 1948 memorial show at the Museum of Modern Art. Bonnard's paintings have a rich painterly effect that is in sympathy with the optical importance of Rothko's own brushstrokes that illuminate his canvases, and he drew on both Bonnard's rich palette and his treatment of light. His fascination with the effects and nature of light can also be traced to the Luminists – a tradition in American painting that dominated the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century. The principle tenets of Luminism were centered on the authority of light – works by artists belonging to the movement, such as John Kensett, confront the viewer with an empty vista that is focused more on colored light itself, rather than more concrete attributes of landscape. The blinding gold sunlight in Kensett's 1872 Sunset on the Sea, for example, is a potent metaphor for the unseen world or spirit. Light in these paintings became a primal source of energy, an idea that became central to the art of Mark Rothko and is encapsulated absolutely in the present work. Also of major significance to Rothko, and perhaps most famously, was the work of J.M.W. Turner, and the British artist’s remarkable interpretations of light and atmosphere, such as in The Fighting Temeraire of 1839.\nHowever, as conclusively demonstrated by Untitled, Rothko’s contribution to Art History readily overwhelms categorization to any singular dogma or style, including that of the colorist tradition. Following his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, Rothko greatly appreciated Robert Goldwater’s essay in reviewing the show, which provides compelling insight to the role of color within the artist’s work: “Rothko means that the enjoyment of color for its own sake, the heightened realization of its purely sensuous dimension, is not the purpose of his painting. If Matisse was one point of departure… Rothko has since moved far in an opposite direction. Yet over the years he has handled his color so that one must pay ever closer attention to it, examine the unexpectedly joined hues, the slight, and continually slighter, modulations within the large area of any single surface, and the softness and the sequence of the colored shapes. Thus these pictures compel careful scrutiny of their physical existence… all the while suggesting that these details are means, not ends.” (Robert Goldwater, ‘Reflections of the Rothko Exhibition,’ Arts, March 1961, pp. 43-44)\nIn the pursuit of an entirely unprecedented idiom to express an essential and universal truth, Rothko developed the color field vernacular, emptying his canvases, as it were, of all but that which remains as fundamental. As he wrote in a letter to The New York Times together with Adolph Gottlieb in 1943, “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.” (Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, ‘Letter to the Editor,” June 7, 1943, in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Mark Rothko Writings on Art, 2006, p. 36) Eventually Rothko’s remarkable achievement was to create paintings that announce their own unique materiality and create an exalted viewing experience: Rothko’s feat, as defined by Robert Rosenblum, was “to provide a transcendental image that would take us beyond history.” (Robert Rosenblum, "Notes on Rothko and Tradition," in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 21)
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medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Mark Rothko

condition

This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for a condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is unframed. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

33 x 30 in. 83.8 x 76.2 cm.

literature

David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, cat. no. 436, p. 331, illustrated in color

provenance

Estate of Mary Alice Rothko (acquired in 1970) Estate of the Artist (acquired in 1977) (Estate #522.7.50c) The Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1983) Jerome Kasle, Flint, Michigan (acquired from the above in 1983) Sotheby's, New York, November 6, 1990, Lot 28 (consigned by the above) Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above) Sotheby's, New York, May 6, 1992, Lot 8A (consigned by the above) Private Collection, South Korea (acquired from the above) Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York Acquired by the present owner from the above in January 2001

consignmentDesignation

Property of a Distinguished Private Collector

creator_nationality_dates

1903 - 1970


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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