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White, Orange and Yellow
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About the item

“Maybe you have noticed two characteristics exist in my paintings; either their surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions.  Between these two poles you can find everything I want to say”.\nMark Rothko in a conversation recorded by Alfred Jensen in 1953\n\nClosely identified with the New York School, Mark Rothko’s art, like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning’s, remains one of the most celebrated dialects of the collective Abstract Expressionist language.  For nearly half a century, Rothko developed an impassioned form of abstract painting-- one that transformed color into emotive experience.  The 1940s saw him adopt a biomorphic style close to that of his fellow Abstract Expressionist, Arshile Gorky.  Emerging from these soft molding forms in a semi-neutral palette, such as the classic example of Untitled from 1949 exhibits, Rothko embraced color and form in a disciplined and intimate way.  Gradually, he became increasingly reductive, paying rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth and composition.  From the early 1950s, until his death in 1970, Rothko made a series of works in which any suggestion of figuration was abandoned in favor of superimposed rectangular blocks of color, with cloudy edges, that possessed an evanescence and incandescence unique to his art.  Bathed in a painterly mist, these indeterminate forms project their hues out of the pictorial space, inviting the viewer to contemplate the space he has created, leading them to extreme states of feeling.\nRothko’s authority over color, surface and composition was never more commanding than in his works from the 1950s.  This was a decade in which Rothko created some of the most important, beautiful and luminescent images of the Twentieth Century.  Experimenting with color, balance and the proportion of weight or suspension given to each cloudy field of color, Rothko created an illuminating series of sensual, enigmatic masterpieces which sought a harmonious outcome.  Through this journey in space and color, Rothko established a definitive style of his own that would set his work apart from his contemporaries.  It was also a time when Rothko was receiving much public recognition and in 1953, caught the attention of the Art Institute of Chicago, which in 1954 would present the first solo exhibition dedicated to his work at a major American museum.\nIn White, Orange and Yellow from 1953, two softly edged rectangles of lemony yellow and blushing white are stacked on top of one another, floating against an orange ground. Rothko applied his colors in thin veils, often allowing an undertone to optically illuminate an overlay, as in the pinkish tone that infuses the white form. The varying density of the orange background separates the two clouds and bleeds into the yellow form to give it weight and presence.  Rothko was also experimenting with incorporating paper into his compositions.  In the present work, Rothko uses paper mounted on board to achieve a variety in surface, texture and color density.  The airy quality of pulpy paper enhances the overall lightness of White, Orange and Yellow and further radiates the citrus color scheme, evoking a feeling that is at once mellow and carefree.\nRothko's experiments with mixing and layering unlikely combinations of color in varying tones and hues, achieves a new and unique result and tests the infinite possibilities of the color spectrum.  His complex relationship with color was shaped by the influence of Henri Matisse’s pure, flat color and the sheer veils of flat color in his friend Milton Avery’s work.  The absurdity and complexity of Rothko’s color is that he himself claimed that he was not a colorist at all.  According to the American critic Robert Goldwater, “he [Rothko] is ‘no colorist’, and that if we regard him as such we miss the point of his art.  Yet it is hardly a secret that color is his sole medium… Rothko’s concern over the years has been the reduction of his vehicle to the unique colored surface which represents nothing and supports nothing else” (Robert Goldwater, Reflections on the Rothko Exhibition, 1961, reprinted in Mark Rothko, 1903-1970 [exh. cat., Tate Gallery] (London, 1987), p. 32).\nThe medium of paper brings a new dimension to Rothko's work as the processes of execution are more technical and premeditated.  Rarer than his canvases, Rothko’s works on paper are particularly intimate as Rothko kept most of them in his own possession throughout his lifetime.  There is less known about these works and there remains a mysterious quality that the sensation of paper gives to them.  Many of his works on paper were largely unknown and unavailable during his life and immediately following his death.  Rothko’s works on paper are now generally mounted on three-dimensional supports; he did not do this himself, but rather sent his finished works to John Krushenick for mounting.  Bonnie Clearwater emphasizes how crucial these works on paper are to grasp an understanding of Rothko’s oeuvre: “Together with the canvases, the works on paper chart the artist’s quest for an elemental language that would communicate basic human emotions and move all mankind.”.  Using the familiar building blocks of color to create his distinct compositions, Rothko would systematically yet delicately layer colors creating an outcome of glowing density of hues encircled by a halo-like ring, as in White, Orange and Yellow.  She concludes, “many of these works on paper look as if Rothko has peeled away the layers of his paintings in an attempt to unravel his own mystery and expose the core of his art.  Thus, with their symmetry, tidy execution, and minimal gesture the small works on paper often seem to be more quintessentially Rothko than many of his canvases… They should be appreciated for their subtlety, their directness, and what they disclose about the artist’s aesthetic” (Bonnie Clearwater, Mark Rothko Works on Paper, New York 1984, p. 39)
US
NY, US
US

medium

Tempera on paper mounted on board

creator

Mark Rothko

dimensions

39 5/8 x 26 1/2 in. 100.7 x 67.3 cm.

exhibition

Zurich, Kunsthaus Museum of Fine Arts; Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Neue Nationalgalerie; Düsseldorf, Städtisches Kunsthalle; Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen; Mark Rothko, March 1971 - January 1972, cat. no. 28, pp. 46-47, illustrated in color (incorrectly illustrated upside down) Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Mark Rothko, March - May 1972, cat. no. 21 Munich, Villa Stuck; Bottrop, Josef Albers Museum, Anni and Josef Albers: A Retrospective, December 1989 - June 1990, cat. no. 143 Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of Art, Mark Rothko, May - November 1998, cat. no. 59, pp. 130-131, illustrated in color

provenance

Estate of the artist (estate no. 1277.53) Marlborough Gallery, New York (acquired circa 1971) Galerie Flinker, Paris (acquired from the above in 1972) Galerie Beyeler, Basel Christie's, New York, November 2, 1994, lot 24 Acquired by the present owner from the above

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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