This is one of the paintings in which Mark Rothko confirmed his shift to abstract painting. More than 20 years earlier he began painting realistically, and 10 years before that had moved to Surrealistic mythological scenes. By 1947 his work had become completely abstract in compositions such as this, of irregular areas of colour.
Here he has painted the most beautiful bright blue, a bright turquoise and orange, and a darker red and browns. Brightness and hue cause some of these colours to stand out and others to fall back, but the changes in tone between darker and lighter areas are so gradual that depth within the painting remains indeterminate. This is a new kind of picture plane. Which forms are figures, and which background? The clear evidence that so many colours have been painted over others adds to the viewer’s indecision.
Of special interest are the three large rectangular blocks of colour forming gradually around the edges. In the following year the artist made these the subject of all his subsequent paintings, but here he is just moving towards perceiving their power.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008