About This Artwork

Mark Rothko (Marcus Rothkowitz)
American, born Russia (Latvia), 1903–1970

Untitled (Painting), 1953/54

Oil on canvas
265.1 x 298.1 cm (104 3/8 x 117 3/8 in.), unframed
Not inscribed on recto; signed and dated: verso: "Mark Rothko / 1954" (center left in orange paint)

Friends of American Art Collection, 1954.1308

© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Known for an impassioned form of painting predicated on the poetics of color, Mark Rothko was one of the leading proponents of color-field painting, a type of nongestural Abstract Expressionism that entailed large canvases distinguished by monumental expanses of form and tone. The canvas of Untitled (Painting) burns with subtle variations of orange and yellow hues. The painting follows the characteristic format of Rothko’s mature work, according to which stacked rectangles of color appear to float within the boundaries of the canvas. By directly staining the fabric of the canvas with many thin washes of pigment and by paying particular attention to the edges where the fields interact, he achieved the effect of light radiating from the image itself. This technique suited his metaphysical aims: to offer painting as a doorway into purely spiritual realms, making it as immaterial and evocative as music, and to communicate directly the most essential, rawest forms of human emotion. Rothko described his art as the “elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, between the idea and the observer.” In place of overt symbolism, he used color, overwhelming scale, and surface luminosity to elicit an emotive, profound response from the viewer.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

“Annual Report 1954–1955” (Art Institute of Chicago, 1955), n.pag., as “Untitled.”

“Recent Additions to the Twentieth Century Collection,” “The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly” 49, 2 (April 1, 1955), pp. 23–24, as “Untitled.”

“Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago” (Art Institute of Chicago, 1961), p. 404.

“Instituto de Arte de Chicago,” El mundo de los museos (Madrid: Editorial Codex, 1967), pp. 15 (ill.), 79 (color ill.).

James N. Wood, “Treasures of 19th- and 20th-Century Painting: The Art Institute of Chicago” (Abbeville Press, 1993), p. 305 (color ill.).

David Anfam, “Mark Rothko, The Works on Canvas: A Catalogue Raisonné” (National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press, 1998), cat. 500 (color ill.).

Miguel López-Remiro, “Mark Rothko: Writings on Art” (Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 104–07.

Ownership History

Sold by the artist, New York, to the Art Institute, 1954.

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