Mark Rothko: Paintings of Ecstasy and Tragedy

Painting, No. 8, 1952 Mark_Rothko

No. 8, 1952
Mark Rothko

“I’m not here to make ‘pretty pictures!’ I want my paintings to stop your heart, you understand that?!  I am here to make you think…feel a moan of rapture…sense the divine, or damned.” — Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko felt that a painting was not just about an artist painting his own experience; it was also an experience for the viewer.  His paintings needed us, the observers.

Luminous colors seem to hover over the huge canvases.  The rectangles seem to pulsate; they move.

Painting - Red, White and Brown, 1957 Mark Rothko

Red, White and Brown, 1957
Mark Rothko

Rothko believed colors held mythical powers which transported the observer. He urged the viewer “to lean forward, lean into the painting.  Engage with it.  Get close.  Let the picture do its work.”

His colors quiver with the pathos of tragedy and ecstasy…emotions that ruled his life.

Painting, No. 20, 1957 Mark Rothko

No. 20, 1957
Mark Rothko

“There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend…One day the black will swallow the red.”

Mark Rothko committed suicide at the age of 66 in 1970, at the height of his fame and wealth. His last paintings were the colors of tragedy: brown, dark blue and black.

Watch highlights from the award winning Broadway play, “RED”, about Mark Rothko!
Click here if you are unable to view the video.

Leave a Comment



  1. Margo May 7, 2014 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Great blog, as always! Thanks girl!

  2. Sandy Bornstein May 7, 2014 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Terrific scene. We saw the play at the Lyceum Theater a few weeks ago. It was excellent…however this scene was more powerful. It really helped me to appreciate

  3. Ken Gary May 7, 2014 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Well, he talks a good game, anyway — if the real Rothko was anything like the character in the play. Maybe he killed himself because he ran out of words and couldn’t come up with any more rectangle variations. That much passion inevitably burns itself out….and then what?

  4. Carolyn Bussard-Lamb May 7, 2014 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Always love your blog. The first time I saw a Rothko painting, I thought “What’s the big deal?” Overtime I have come to appreciate his work and the emotion and energy of his work. Would love to see the play. Thanks for keeping us informed.

  5. Megan May 10, 2014 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    It was always interesting hearing people’s reactions to his work when I was a security guard at The Cleveland Museum of Art (in college). People love to hate him. I always felt bad that people would dismiss his works and say they could easily paint what he painted. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Louise May 13, 2014 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Love Rothko and his paintings! Of course all my work is
    about color so I could not agree with him more in terms of the
    emotions it evokes. Just saw one of his pieces at the Jewish Museum
    in San Francisco and it took my breath away – so powerful! The exhibit was
    Spirituality in Art in the Past 100 Years. Rothko’s art was extremely
    spiritual and seeing one of his paintings up close and personal was
    unlike any experience I had ever had with a painting – truly a spiritual

  7. Donna May 14, 2014 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    I am a Rothko enthusiast and “Red” is one of my favorite plays.

  8. Valerie May 15, 2014 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Thanks for the Rothko entry; I enjoyed the comments.
    Have a look at The Independent (English newspaper) for today(15 May) p.25. Rothko’s Black on Maroon was vandalised 18 months ago but is now back on display in the Tate in London after a £200K restoration job.

  9. Linda May 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed reading your posting on Rothko. The Rothko room at the Phillips Collection in DC is one of my favorite spots in the world. They did a building renovation recently, and I was afraid that they’d decide to dismantle the room or otherwise change it, but it’s still there in all its glory.
    It was fun watching Barret’s video.

  10. david kremenak May 17, 2014 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Colors make us think; some colors make us sad.I’m sorry Mark Rothko was not able to see the colors at the rainbow’s end.

  11. Vic DePratti May 31, 2014 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Sorry, but I just don’t feel ecstacy, nor passion, not even sadness. Tragic? Maybe yes. Just review his life, as portrayed. Sort of unfortunate. But hey! He apparently made into the big time of the art world. No small accomplishment.
    As for me, the art forms that touch me are not a big stretch.
    Rothko, I am sure earned his stripes. But, for me naugh.

  12. Judith Gray June 13, 2014 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    This was really edifying, Kirby. I naively tended to dismiss Rothko in the past. I better appreciate the impact of sheer color and all the metaphors we take for granted in this vibrant world of ours.

  13. Dan Goldstein June 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    his colors do invite an intense engagement.the very first painting could be a small nuclear explosion or a lava fire – has that amount of power.
    but this tragedy of a suicide – I think part of the artistic achievement is learning gratitude for the opportunity to be engaged in the process regardless of outcomes – we should savor that privilege of creative engagement for as many years as we are given.

  14. ElizabethW February 15, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    I am not a huge fan of abstract art but we went to the Rothko Chapel in Houston and even my eye rolling teenagers were spellbound by the huge canvases that seemed to undulate and draw you in. Take a seat in the Chapel for ten minutes and I guarantee it will move anyone.

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