Please note that in the print catalogue for this sale, this lot appears as number 59T.
Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Reis, New York (circa 1963)
Barbara Poe, Los Angeles (by descent from the above in 1980)
Acquired from the above by A. Alfred Taubman in June 1980
Tokyo, Seibu Contemporary Gallery, Highlights, July 25 - September 3, 1986, no. 13, illustrated
The bars of rich, sumptuous dark hues concurrently imply a limitless abyss while the fiery orange toward the bottom surges forward, a dynamic optical experience resulting in a vibrancy that places the work at the pinnacle of the artist’s oeuvre. A sensation of rich, somatic absorption that is unparalleled by any other artist’s work, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine causes us to sink deeper into our own minds. As Dore Ashton eloquently wrote: “The interior realm was where Rothko wished to or perhaps could only live, and what he hoped to express. The ‘theater of the mind,’ as Mallarmé called it, was immensely dramatic for Rothko. His darkness at the end did allude to the light of the theater in which, when the lights are gradually dimmed, expectation mounts urgently” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189). Through his technique of layering thin washes of paint one over the other, often allowing colors from initial layers to show through the subsequent coats of pigment, Rothko’s painting seems to conceal a hidden light source emanating from its very core. Twinkling through and around the elegant planes of color, the present work achieves an incandescent dimensionality that is reminiscent of Rembrandt or Caravaggio’s divine virtuosity for rendering natural light in flat oil paint. Michael Butor wrote of this series of Rothko’s works that “one of the most remarkable of Rothko’s triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine” (Ibid., p. 189). Indeed, it is almost as if this extraordinary painting is brilliantly illuminated from within: a translucent vessel of pure color and light.
It is well documented that Rothko was fixated with the literary work of Friedrich Nietzsche, above all the German philosopher's seminal opus The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, written in 1872. Nietzsche’s ideas of how the tension between Apollonian and Dionysian forces dictates the terms of human drama were important to the advancement of Rothko's color fields. Indeed, Rothko’s vast tableaux have often been discussed in the lexicon of the immediate and saturating effects of music. David Sylvester’s review of the 1961 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London provides an apt response to the present work in these terms: “These paintings begin and end with an intense and utterly direct expression of feeling through the interaction of colored areas of a certain size. They are the complete fulfillment of Van Gogh’s notion of using color to convey man’s passions. They are the realization of what abstract artists have dreamed for 50 years of doing – making painting as inherently expressive as music. More than this: for not even with music…does isolated emotion touch the nervous system so directly” (in New Statesman, 20 October 1961 cited in exhibition catalogue, London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 36).
Excepting a letter to Art News in 1957, from 1949 onwards Rothko ceased publishing statements about his work, anxious that his writings might be interpreted as instructive or didactic and could thereby interfere with the pure import of the paintings themselves. However, in 1958 he gave a talk at the Pratt Institute to repudiate his critics and to deny any perceived association between his art and self-expression. He insisted instead that his corpus was not concerned with notions of self but rather with the entire human drama. While he drew a distinction between figurative and abstract art, he nevertheless outlined an underlying adherence to the portrayal of human experience. Discussing the “artist’s eternal interest in the human figure,” Rothko examined the common bond of figurative painters throughout art history: “they have painted one character in all their work. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual. Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea” (lecture given at the Pratt Institute 1958, cited in exhibition cataloge, London, The Tate Gallery, Ibid., p. 87). Teeming with the sheer genius of its creator’s inimitable evocation of the sublime, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine is the singular summation of Mark Rothko’s fundamental artistic ambition as elucidated in his definitive Pratt Institute talk. A veritable treatise on the absolute limits of abstraction, the present work, in truth, involves both spirit and nature, and instills in us a profound sense of the spiritual whilst evincing Rothko’s abject faith in the critical role the artist plays in attaining the highest realm to which man could aspire: “For art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness” (Mark Rothko, “Personal Statement,” in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art, Mark Rothko, New Haven, 2006, p. 45).
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