F or Mark Rothko, the first half of the 1950s proved critical. It was during this period that the artist began embracing pure color as a vehicle to an emotional experience, a pioneering approach which ultimately became his signature style of abstraction. Blue Over Red, completed in 1953, marks the apex of this crucial era. Testifying to the importance of this year in Rothko’s career, half of the 16 paintings the artist executed in 1953 reside in permanent museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Legendary dealer and collector Harold Diamond acquired Blue Over Red directly from the artist in 1957. Diamond owned seven Rothko paintings during his life, three of which are now in prestigious museum collections: one in the Addison Gallery of American Art, one in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and one in the Ho-Am Art Museum in Seoul. Subsequently, Blue Over Red spent decades with Baltimore collectors Israel and Selma Rosen, who offered the work at auction in 2005, when it sold for $5.6 million. It has remained in the same private collection since 2007.
This November, Sotheby's will offer Blue Over Red in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction with an estimate of $25 – 35 million. The painting will be on public view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 1 November.
Executed in a richly saturated palette of orange, red and yellow, dramatically offset by one luminous blue band, Blue Over Red exemplifies the signature radiance of Rothko’s works. Featuring sumptuous color and blazing light, the work represents the summation of the artist’s deeply philosophical practice. Although the painting comprises overwhelmingly blazing hues, the blue asserts itself intensely, existing ‘over’ the fields of red and orange.