Pace Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Colorado (acquired from the above in 1985)
Pace Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1990)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Sotheby's, New York, 10 November 1993, Lot 24
Private Collection, New Zealand (acquired from the above)
Sotheby's, New York, 11 November 2014, Lot 36
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Homage to Francis Bacon, June - September 1992, n.p., no. 51 (text)
Hildesheim, Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum, Passion, May - June 1993, p. 94, illustrated in colour
During the summer of 1968, Mark Rothko began a series of oil paintings on paper predominated by a combination of brown and grey hues. He divided his sheets into two zones, layering the top half with smooth brown paint and transferring his grey pigment onto the bottom half in diaphanous swathes. The particularities inherent in the materials that the artist used contributed greatly to the appearance of works such as Untitled, as the paper’s fibres soaked up the fluid paint, resulting in a surface seemingly undisturbed by the artist’s gesture and bristling with enigmatic potentiality. In these works, and counter to Rothko’s earlier paintings, the distinct fields of colour do not float on a discretely monochromatic ground but are instead bound by the narrow white border that circumscribes the canvas. Though seemingly more entrenched within the framing device of the white border, the brown and grey zones of Untitled still express an impossibly subtle sense of movement, most perceptible in the slight undulation that occurs when the colours coincide. Faintly allusive of a horizon line besieged by fog as in the brooding Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, this meeting point becomes the crux of the composition, wherein Rothko achieved his art’s ultimate objective.
The series of works on paper to which Untitled belongs was the inspiration for a concurrent group of Black and Gray paintings, among the final expressions of the artist’s oeuvre. In their composition and chromatic sensibility, these works are irrevocably linked, jointly constituting the ultimate stage of exploration and experimentation in the career of the foremost pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. Thomas Hess, in a discussion of the Black and Gray paintings, elucidated their cardinal importance: “The Black and Gray paintings seem very much a part of Rothko’s sensibility: the elegance (in a mathematician’s sense of the word) with which the paint is applied, the extreme sensitivity of the ‘horizon’ where black and grey meet, the particular gleam in the white edge – a kind of dancing light… I am reminded of Barnett Newman’s remark that when an artist gives up colours and moves into black and white, he is clearing the decks for something new, freeing himself for fresh experiment. Rothko’s paintings have this nascent excitement” (Thomas B. Hess, 'Rothko: A Venetian Souvenir', Art News, 69, No. 7, November 1970, p. 74). While scholarship on Rothko’s art often reads the sombre tones of works such as Untitled as indicative of Rothko’s psychological state in the last year of his life, Hess’ statement conversely positions this conclusive series as the kernel of an entirely new aesthetic agenda, one that the artist feverishly and passionately pursued. Untitled captures within its expansive borders Mark Rothko’s definitively brilliant ability to harness the forces of colour, contour, and shadow to transport his viewer out of the realm of the mundane, thereby bearing witness to Dore Ashton’s remark that, “Rothko had reduced his imagery to the most subtle analogies of states of the soul and, with a mixture of perplexity and exaltation, had pursued a vision” (Ibid., p. 12).
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