Lot 27
  • 27

Mark Rothko

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP
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  • Mark Rothko
  • Untitled 
  • acrylic on paper laid on canvas
  • 193 by 122 cm. 76 by 48 in.
  • Executed in 1969.


Estate of the Artist

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, Mark Rothko, November 1990 - January 1991, n.p., no. 9, illustrated in colour

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


Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Mark Rothko, 1903-1970: Pictures of Drama, Cologne 2003, p. 89, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly warmer in the original.Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In the pictures created throughout his legendary career, Mark Rothko strove to convey infinity within the confines of the finite. Driven by a dogged pursuit of luminescence, the artist created a corpus of works that seek to convey the essence of pure light through the mesmerising conflation of form and colour. Thus it is unsurprising that, in the course of this quest Rothko arrived at the medium of paper, and its paradoxical ability to concurrently absorb and reflect light. Untitled, 1969, is stunning in scale for a work on paper by Rothko and enchanting in its subtle tonality, attesting to the absolute equality of import that exists between Rothko’s canvases and his paintings on paper. Emitting an aura of contemplative serenity in the tradition of the artist’s most esteemed monumental canvases, the present work makes manifest Dore Ashton’s declaration that Rothko “conjured light and he conjured shadow, as painters have always done, but he did so in the service of an ideal that transcended both, and that can only be felt and not thought” (Dore Ashton cited in: Bonnie Clearwater, Mark Rothko, New York 1984, p. 13).

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).