Mark Rothko

1903 - 1970


Born Markus Rothkowitz, 25 September, in Dvinsk, Russia, the youngest of four children. His father, Jacob, is a pharmacist.


Family comes to the United States as part of the large wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe; they settle in Portland, Oregon.


Father dies. Children work in their uncle's clothing business.

1913 - 23

Attends school and studies drawing at local art school.

1921 - 23

Attend Yale University for two years on scholarship.

1924 - 29

Moves to New York and enrols at Art Students League. Studies with Max Weber, a leader in the American modern movement, and experiments with expressionist style.

early 1930s

Teaches part-time, and meets other artists, including Adolph Gottlieb and David Smith, who will also become leaders of the "New York School."

1935 - 39

Along with Jackson Pollock and other New York artists, is employed during the Depression by the WPA Federal Art Project, a government-sponsored program for artists. Becomes interested in ancient and African art. Paints distorted figural studies in contemporary settings.


Meets Barnett Newman. Exhibition of Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art influences development of American art.


Becomes American citizen. Experiments with Surrealist-influenced automatic drawing techniques and notions of the artist's subconscious as the subject of art.


Begins painting mythical subjects in semi-abstract style.


Arrival of André Breton, author of the Surrealist manifesto, from France, and influx of European avant-garde artists to New York, escaping the war.


Along with Newman and Gottlieb pursues interest in an aesthetic based on Greco-Roman and Christian myth. Rothko's painting combines unusual juxtapositions of images, sometimes segregated in zones. Colours tend to be soft and thinly applied.


Joins Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, which also exhibits works by Pollock, Still, and other abstract artists.


Rothko's painting evolves away from Surrealism and towards a greater abstraction as figurative elements give way to diffused patches of colour floating in an ambiguous space.


Stops titling his paintings (as do many of his contemporaries) and now gives them numbers and dates. Mature style begins to emerge, with compositions increasingly simplified. Large, soft-edged coloured rectangles dominate the space.

1952 - 57

Exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Sidney Janis Gallery. Paints No. 16 (NGC).

1958 - 59

Commissioned to paint murals for restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York, but abandons project due to an uneasiness with painting for a privileged elite.


Major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, with 54 works exhibited. Paints commissioned murals for Harvard University.


Paints murals for a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas.


Suffers a stroke.


Leaves home and family to live in his studio. Receives honorary doctorate from Yale University.


February 25: takes own life in studio.

image not available

Birth name

Mark Rothko


Born in Dvinsk, Russia, 25 September 1903


Died in New York, New York, 25 February 1970


Russian, American


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