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Home > Facts > Notable Oregonians > Mark Rothko

Notable Oregonians: Mark Rothko - Artist

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Mark Rothko, 1903-1970 (Photo: Wikimedia)

Mark Rothko, 1903-1970
(Photo: Wikimedia)

Marcus Rothkowitz was born on September 25, 1903 in the Russian Empire (in an area that is now Latvia) to pharmacist Jacob Rothkowitz and Anna Goldin. The oppressive and dangerous situation for people of Jewish descent in czarist Russia had degraded by 1907 to the point that Jacob Rothkowitz resolved to move his family to the United States. Family members began moving to Portland in 1910 and by 1913 the entire family was reunited there. Rothko quickly learned English and was an excellent student, showing interest in the arts. He graduated from Lincoln High School and was awarded a scholarship to Yale University in 1921.

 

Rothko left Yale before completing his degree and got a job in the garment district of New York City in 1923. He enrolled in art classes and visited art galleries and museums where he was exposed to German Expressionist and surrealist art among other forms in the rich cultural environment of 1920s New York. He later worked part-time as a children's art teacher in New York's Center Academy from 1929 to 1952 and taught art at other institutions. Rothko mounted his first one-man show at the Portland Art Museum in 1933, and soon followed that up with a one-man show in New York. Fearing that rising anti-Semitism could lead to his deportation, Rothko became a United States citizen in 1938. He also changed his name from Rothkowitz to Rothko in 1940.

 

Over the years, Rothko's paintings reflected his wide-ranging artistic journey and philosophical inspirations, from mythology to abstractionism. By the late 1940s Rothko was creating what critics described as "multiform" paintings, which Rothko thought acted as self-contained units of human expression. He painted these blurred, colored blocks without human forms or recognizable landscapes, stripped of all but the most basic color and form. They would become his signature style and brought him considerable artistic success and independence by the late 1950s.

 

While Rothko did not identify himself as a member of any art movement, he is considered to be an example of abstract expressionism. Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Rothko is one of the most prominent American artists of the post World War II era. The world of art collecting certainly values his paintings, with several selling for tens of millions of dollars in recent years. A Rothko painting (learn more) from 1961 sold in 2012 for nearly 87 million dollars.

 

Suffering from personal problems and poor health, Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1970.

 

(Sources: Oregon Encyclopedia | markrothko.org | Wikipedia) Revised 1/2017

 

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