EUROPEAN & AMERICAN ART
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Latvia 1903 – United States of America 1970
1957 # 20
[Black,brown on maroon' or 'Deep red and black' are alternative titles'] 1957
New York, New York, United States of America
Painting, oil on canvas
Primary Insc: signed and dated verso u.l., maroon oil paint, "Mark Rothko / 1957"
233.0 h x 193.0 w cm
Unframed 233.0 h x 193.0 w x 4.5 d cm
Accession No: NGA 81.729
© Mark Rothko/ARS. Licensed by Viscopy
Brown, black on maroon is characteristic of Rothko's mature style, composed of soft-edged blocks of colour that float above each other. Throughout the early 1950s he had employed bright colours-reds, yellow, oranges and blues-in harmonious combinations. But in 1957, the year this work was painted, a perceptible shift was occurring in Rothko's paintings. Fewer and darker colours were used, giving a sombre expression of his work. Rothko was still painting 'dramas', a term he had used to describe the subject of his paintings of the 1940s, using colour as the 'instrument': 'I exclude no emotion from being actual and therefore pertinent', he said in 1957. 'I take the liberty to play on any string of my existence. I might as an artist, be lyrical, grim, maudlin, humorous, tragic.'1 At that moment, however, Rothko's paintings reflected a more limited range of mood; among the 'ingredients' of his art listed in a lecture he delivered at the Pratt Institute in 1958, was 'a clear preoccupation with death. All art deals with intimations of mortality'.2
To Dore Ashton, a regular visitor to his studio at this time, Rothko claimed that 'he was creating the most violent painting in America'.3 Ashton interpreted this as referring to the conflict inherent in the association of colours that Rothko conceived of as the symbolic equivalents of emotions. The 'dark' emotions that permeate Brown, black on maroon and other paintings of 1957 were, with certain exceptions, the basis for all the works Rothko painted until he committed suicide in February 1970.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.250.
- Elaine de Kooning, 'Kline and Rothko: Two Americans in Action', Artnews, Annual XXVII, 1958, pp.88-97; 174-9, cf. p.177
- Taken from notes made at a lecture by Rothko at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, in 1958, and published by Dore Ashton in an New York Times, 31 October 1958 and reprinted in 'The New York School', Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1965 (exhit p.142.
- Dore Ashton, About Rothko (exhibition catalogue), New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, p.138.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010