Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz on September 25,
1903, in Dvinsk, Russia (now Latvia). In 1913 he left Russia and settled
with the rest of his family in Portland, Oregon. Rothko attended Yale
University, New Haven, on a scholarship from 1921 to 1923. That year he
left Yale without receiving a degree and moved to New York. In 1925 he
studied under Max Weber at the Art Students League. He participated in his
first group exhibition at the Opportunity Galleries, New York, in 1928.
During the early 1930s Rothko became a close friend of Milton Avery and
Adolph Gottlieb. His first solo show took place at the Portland Art Museum
Rothko’s first solo exhibition in New York was held at
the Contemporary Arts Gallery in 1933. In 1935 he was a founding member of
the Ten, a group of artists sympathetic to abstraction and
Expressionism. He executed easel paintings
for the WPA Federal Art Project from 1936 to 1937. By 1936 Rothko knew
Barnett Newman. In the early 1940s he worked closely with Gottlieb,
developing a painting style with mythological content, simple flat shapes,
and imagery inspired by primitive art. By mid-decade his work incorporated
Surrealist techniques and images. Peggy Guggenheim gave Rothko a solo show
at Art of This Century in New York in 1945.
In 1947 and 1949 Rothko taught at the California School
of Fine Arts, San Francisco, where Clyfford Still was a fellow instructor.
With William Baziotes, David Hare, and Robert Motherwell, Rothko founded
the short-lived Subjects of the Artist school in New York in 1948. The
late 1940s and early 1950s saw the emergence of Rothko’s mature style, in
which frontal, luminous rectangles seem to hover on the canvas surface. In
1958 the artist began his first commission, monumental paintings for the
Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York,
gave Rothko an important solo exhibition in 1961. He completed murals for
Harvard University in 1962 and in 1964 accepted a mural commission for an
interdenominational chapel in Houston. Rothko took his own life on
February 25, 1970, in his New York studio. A year later the Rothko Chapel
in Houston was dedicated.