Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1969

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

Mark Rothko: "When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing: no galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today is not quite the same." (RO539)

January 1, 1969: Mark Rothko separates from Mell and moves into his 69th Street Studio. (RO505)

Exterior of Mark Rothko's studio on 69th Street. (Photo: James E.B. Breslin)

Both Mell and Rothko were drinkers. A neighbour of the Rothko's, George Cavallon, recalled them arriving for a dinner party and Rothko saying to him about Mell, "Don't give her anything to drink because she's a drunk." Rothko, himself, was drunk at the time he made the comment. Kate Rothko recalled that her mother became "vituperative" when drunk and that her parents had "horrendous arguments, with language like in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf. (RO501) When Kate was due to start college, she enrolled in the University of Chicago, later saying that "My major motivation for going to Chicago was to get out of the house because I wasn't finding it a very pleasant place to live. (After a quarter term at Chicago she returned to New York and enrolled in Brooklyn College in the spring of 1968). (RO503)

Bruce Ruddick, a friend of Rothko who was also a psychiatrist, later commented that Rothko was concerned "by the amount of drinking he and Mell were doing" and that Rothko "was probably enraged because he felt she abandoned him in her own way." After his aneurysm Rothko had asked Ruddick if he could see him as a patient. Ruddick told him that it would not be possible because of their friendship but Rothko often visited his office on Saturdays "just to talk:"

Bruce Ruddick:

One thing was his alarm at his own drinking. He was quite upset by the amount of drinking he and Mell were doing... he felt it was devastating their lives, and he expressed a serious concern that in some way this might harm his children, especially his little boy. He was dreadfully fond of that child. He talked about fame and a public role being thrust on him, his loss of any sense of privacy. He also mentioned that he had pain and that it didn't seem to be measurable or register much. His doctors treated the pain as if it were inexplicable and imaginary. Getting older and feeling threatened and depressed, perhaps what he wanted to come to me for was somebody who in some way would empathize with and sympathize with his pain... He felt that the depth of suffering he was going through was debilitating to him as a creative person. He didn't say it stopped him, but it was draining him. He did not feel he had the elan, the vitality and the energy, that he wanted. He also felt that his own anodyne, his own anti-depressant, alcohol, was not helping. He knew he was destroying himself drinking. And he was concerned about Mell's drinking. Separating from Mell, that's his heartbreak. He loved Mell, but I think he was probably enraged because he felt she abandoned him in her own way... He expressed just his own feeling of despair, these terrible intimations of mortality - plus one fact: his mother's death weighed heavily on him. He spoke of her. He mentioned that it had been a terrible blow. He mentioned it almost as if - and this is an analytic speculation - as if he anticipated some kind of fusion, return, in his own dying. (RO531)

While Rothko lived in his studio, he continued to visit his wife in the house on Ninety-fifth Street.

From The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes:

When Rothko went to Ninety-fifth Street, there was usually a fight. Having heard gossip about Rita, whom she thought had been her friend, Mell was hurt and jealous. Or Rothko might begin the argument with 'Are you trying to poison me putting oil in this salad?' 'She gave me rice when she knows I hate rice,' he would complain to Lidov after a meal at home, ignoring the fact that rice was recommended on his low-fat diet.

On weekends, [Rothko's son] Topher [nickname for Christopher] would come down to the studio, where Oliver Steindecker would play with him. Or Sally Scharf and Rothko would take their sons on an outing. When Kate [Rothko's daughter] saw her father he was generally in a deep uncommunicative depression. Only once did he seem close to his old self, when in the fall he took a taxi to Brooklyn to visit her new first-floor apartment where she had moved to attend Brooklyn College. He advised her about courses and reminisced about his teaching days in Brooklyn. (LM89-90)

Rothko lived frugally in his studio. When he committed suicide in the studio in 1970, the police arriving at the scene had no idea that he was one of the wealthiest artists in America at that time - at least on paper.

Mark Rothko's living space in his 69th Street studio, 1969 (Photo: Morton Levine)

From The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes:

Though on paper Rothko was a millionaire, he lived like a pauper. The accoutrements at the studio were frugal, the few items of furniture were junk-shop Victorian and Sears, Roebuck modern. When, at great expense, he had a shower installed illegally, he agonized over the purchase of a $1.99 Woolworth shower curtain. When he first wore the expensive tailored suits which [Bernard] Reis influenced him to buy, "he looked like a real mensch," as Becky Reis put it to friends; but at night, he was apt to drop the suit in a heap on the floor.

He often talked about sharing his wealth, helping a few elderly artist friends who had not succeeded in the marketplace. At the same time, he would fly into a rage if he thought someone was "trying to to get something for nothing," and often declared that he could not trust anyone 'who did not have one foot in the depression." (LM83)

1969: Robert Motherwell creates a silkscreen for the International Rescue Committee. (HM)
1969: Robert Motherwell separates from Helen Frankenthaler. (HM)
February 1969: Jonathan Ahearn stops working for Mark Rothko.

Rothko had accused Ahearn of stealing money from him in the autumn of 1968 but later became "fatherly" toward him.

From The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes:

When a collector agreed to pay cash, Rothko, if drunk, might stash the money away casually in a drawer or somewhere else in the studio. If he was sober, important things like money went into a 'well,' a hollow space at the center of rolled-up canvases hidden behind the partitions made by the full-scale walls of the chapel structure. One day, during that fall of 1968, Rothko became frantic. Money was missing, along with a contract or bill of sale. It was not in the well, where he thought he had put it, and he suspected young Ahearn. Cagily, he asked leading questions, until finally, Jonathan blew up. "I quit. I could have ripped you off blind many times, Rothko," he shouted. "I know those little paintings are worth ten thousand dollars each. But I haven't taken anything. Call the police. I demand a lie detector test." At that, Rothko wept, full of gentle apology, and their relationship was transformed. Before Ahearn left in February 1969, he "became fatherly toward me," Ahearn remembers affectionately. Where the money went is unknown. After that incident Rothko at least once was known by purchasers to have rushed off to the bank to secure cash packets in his safe-deposit box. (LM76)

February 21, 1969: Mark Rothko signs his second contract with the Marlborough Gallery.

Rothko's first contract expired in June 1968. He hadn't been particularly happy with the gallery who had given him only one solo show (of eight oil paintings on canvas and five works on paper) at their small London gallery at 17-18 Old Bond Street in 1964. (RO665n83) Although his first contract gave the gallery the exclusive right to sell, reproduce and exhibit his work outside the United States, he suspected that the gallery was selling to American collectors. He was right. Of the nine paintings that the gallery sold during the five year period of the first contract, only two were made by the Marlborough London, with the other seven being sold to Americans by Marlborough New York. (RO508) Rothko did better, himself. Over the five year period of the initial contract he personally sold 16 works, with five of them going to museums (Kansas City Museum, Dusseldorf Museum, Phillips Collection, St. Louis Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). (RO665n84)

He wasn't the only artist dissatisfied with the gallery. Robert Motherwell recalled that "The degree of sadism at the gallery was unbelievable even for a big corporation. They were catty, bitchy, humiliating, and treated you like a schoolboy standing in a corner." When Motherwell asked Frank Lloyd for a loan, Lloyd shouted at Motherwell, "Young man, you will never be rich until you are dead." (RO508)

The contract, negotiated by Bernard Reis, made the Marlborough Gallery his exclusive agent for the next eight years, with the gallery buying eighty-seven of his works (twenty-six on canvas, sixty-one on paper) for $1,050,000 to be paid over ten years (later extended to fourteen). A supplementary agreement also allowed Rothko to sell four additional paintings a year to the gallery for 90% of their market value. Rothko later described the agreement to Stanley Kunitz as "the greatest contract ever signed by a living artist" and told Anne-Marie Levine that "I have just signed a contract for a million dollars." (RO505) However, the deferred payments actually meant that the gallery would earn interest on the deferred monies over fourteen years of more than $400,000 with the result being that that they actually acquired the works at an extremely advantageous price. (Although Rothko bragged to Arthur Lidov, Rita Reinhardt and Daniel Goldreyer of a secret Swiss bank account he held and Mell Rothko once told a friend that "there were two secret numbered accounts in Swiss banks" no Swiss accounts were discovered after his death.) (RO661n62)

While Rothko's income from painting had steadily increased through the 1960s (from $76,200 in 1961 to $119,990 in 1967) he continued to be frugal with his spending. When he went to dinner with Robert Motherwell at an expensive French restaurant in Connecticut, he commented, "It's obscene to spend more than $5 on a meal." (RO506)

February 26, 1969: Dore Ashton visits Mark Rothko in his studio.

It was the first time that Ashton had visited Rothko since Rothko's hospitalisation in 1968.

Dore Ashton:

He was wearing slippers and he shuffled, with a vagueness to his gait that I attributed to drinking, or long drinking, continuous drinking, but perhaps it was more inspired by the profound emotional difficulties he is clearly having. His face, thin now, is deeply disturbed, the eyes joyless. He wanders. He is restless (he always was, but now it is frantic), he keeps picking up a cigarette, trying to light the wrong end. At one point, after he had said to me that he was never really connected with painting, since he started painting only late, but that literature and music were his base, and that his 'inner life' is his material, his 'inner experience,' he was about to put on a record (Mozart?) and couldn't find the outlet, his hands strayed with agitation, but I felt he was not really looking. He is malhabile, cannot manage life, probably never could..."

He says he is a Renaissance painter, has nothing to do with painting today. I think he feels this keenly, and it is perhaps one of his sorrows. He says he has only left home - he uses that phrase, leaving home - seven weeks ago, and he had to because Mell had become so hostile that the night he came home from the hospital she was physically beating him about the head. He did it, he says, to save his life.

But it is clear he has no life, that he is frantic, that even the interest of women - there are several in love with him he told me, taking little pleasure or pride in it - has not entered his soul as a satisfactory pastime, or pleasure.

He gave me a little painting which he said was more in the time that I was related to his work. An older painting... When he tried to wrap it he was hurried, inaccurate, utterly incapable of such a simple series of movements. As we talked he asked me to stay. I had the feeling he both wants and doesn't want company... He is still a very shielded man to me. (RO511)

February 1969: Mark Rothko hires Oliver Steindecker as an assistant. (RO469)
c. March 1969: Mark Rothko begins an affair with Ad Reinhardt's widow, Rita. (RO499)

According to her marriage license, Rita Reinhardt was born Rita Ziprowski on October 18, 1928 in Germany to Isaac Ziprowski (b. Poland) and Lisa Leisersohn (b. Russia). (Her actual birth records were lost at the beginning of World War II and Mrs. Reinhardt has said that 1928 may not be correct - she may be a few years younger.) (RO675-6n62) Like Rothko, Rita was Jewish. Her parents and sister were killed during the Holocaust. After the war she moved to New York to live with an uncle, studying painting with Norman Lewis at the Jefferson School, then at the New School and then at Columbia. She married Ad Reinhardt in 1953. She turned to Rothko for advice while attempting to negotiate the sale of her husband's paintings to the Marlborough Gallery.

Rothko told friends that Rita wanted him to get a divorce and marry her her. He also told friends that Mell Rothko was urging him to come home - despite the fact that he had told other friends that Mell "hated" his paintings and had kicked him out. (RO538)

March 1969: Rita Reinhardt negotiates with Marlborough.

Bernard Reis was advising both Rita on her husband's estate and Mark Rothko in his dealings with Frank Lloyd of the Marlborough Galleries - Marlborough's New York gallery was the Marlborough-Gerson. At the time Reis was also on the payroll of the Marlborough. According to Lee Seldes in The Legacy of Mark Rothko, "At the outset, Reis, who disliked [Rothko's wife] Mell, encouraged the romance" between Rita and Rothko. (LM81)

From The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes:

In March, when the time came for Rita's negotiations with Lloyd, it became apparent to those present where Bernard Reis' allegiance lay. During a key session at Marlborough, Reis was pushing so hard that another of Mrs. Reinhardt's advisers demanded sharply of Reis, 'Bernard, just whose side are you on?' When the deal was concluded, Mrs. Reinhardt, for a payout of $655,000 over six years, sold 180 works of art - paintings, collages, and gouaches. She thought the price fair, considering that at Betty Parsons, Reinhardt had proved relatively unsalable, and knew that her bargaining position was therefore far inferior to Rothko's. In a second contract signed at that time, she agreed not to sell any paintings on her own for the next six years, unless she gave the gallery a commission of one-third. (M82)

March 25, 1969: Barnett Newman solo exhibition opens at M. Knoedler and Company at 14 East 57th Street.

It was Newman's first solo show in a gallery in ten years. It included the four Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue paintings, Now II, Anna's Light and two recently completed triangular canvases - Jericho and Chartres. Thomas Hess wrote the first monograph published on Newman for the exhibition. (MH)

March 5 - April 26, 1969: Opening night gala for the Willem de Kooning retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art.

Consisting of 147 paintings, drawings, pastels and collages exhibited in eleven rooms of MOMA, the retrospective show was larger than the version that had opened in Holland and traveled to London. Running concurrently was an exhibition at the Knoedler gallery of de Kooning's "latest works" - works completed between January 1968 and March 1969.

Among the invited guests at the black-tie gala that took place on March 3rd, were Lee Eastman and his wife Monique, de Kooning's ex-mistress Mary Abbott (who sat to the left of de Kooning on the dais), Larry Rivers (who wore a bomber jacket and t-shirt) and Irving Markowitz who, according to de Kooning's biographers "stood guard should de Kooning drink too much." De Kooning attended with Joan Ward (in a Geoffrey Beene dress) and their thirteen year old daughter, Lisa Ward.

Critical reaction to the show was mixed. Walter Darby Bannard compared de Kooning's work unfavourably to Jackson Pollock and referred to de Kooning's return to the figure as a "symbol of defeat." Andrew Forge in Art News was more positive - "his pictures, restless and contradictory as they are on so many levels, are always calmly and definitely there." The magazine also published a favourable review of the Knoedler show. (DK518-20)

March 24, 1969: The director of the Tate Gallery writes to Rothko regarding the conditions of his bequest.

Although Rothko wanted his work to be on permanent display in the planned Rothko room, the board of trustees could not guarantee that the works would be exhibited "in perpetuity." But Norman Reid, the director of the gallery wrote that to Rothko that the board "hope and intend to keep whatever works you may present to the Tate in the same gallery, undisturbed, probably for a number of years, and maybe for a very considerable time." (RO516/668n16)

Spring 1969: Willem de Kooning builds a door that leads to nowhere.

De Kooning and Joan Ward planned on adding a large living room wing to the front of their cottage in the Springs, extending the kitchen and adding a swimming pool. Joan Ward later recalled, "Bill loved building. He stood over me at the drawing board and said, 'This is going to be fun, Joanie.'" They "argued for two weeks about where the swimming pool was going to go. "He wanted it straight; I wanted it at an angle," Joan recalled. She ended up doing most of the planning and design, although Bill contributed a small cupboard in the ceiling - described by Lisa as "a door that leads to nowhere." (DK521-22)

Spring 1969: The first meeting of the directors of the Mark Rothko Foundation takes place. (RO540)

Although the Foundation was yet to be incorporated, Rothko had named the directors in his September 1968 Will as Robert Goldwater, Morton Levine, Bernard Reis, William Rubin and Theodoros Stamos. They met with Rothko in his studio, with Rubin proposing the establishment of a small Rothko museum, similar to the Léger museum in France. Reis thought the idea was "preposterous" due to the expense. Rubin then proposed loaning works to museums unable to purchase paintings but willing to provide space for long-term exhibitions with proper lighting conditions. Rubin also later recalled that the idea of the Foundation awarding grants to older artists in need was also briefly discussed. According to Rubin, "Mark Rothko was concerned about the preservation of his work. He didn't want the work to be put on sale. He had enough money for his family. He felt, 'I want to protect the work.'" (RO540) Rubin also recalled that during the meeting Rothko was "soused" from drinking too much at lunch and could barely walk. (RO540)

May 1969: John and Dominique de Menil donate money toward the purchase of Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk.

The de Menils donated money toward the purchase of Broken Obelisk as a public sculpture for the city of Houston, specifying that it be erected near City Hall and be dedicated to to the memory of Martin Luther King. City officials refused the sculpture because they objected to the dedication. (RO483)

June 9, 1969: Mark Rothko is awarded an honorary doctorate by Yale University.

Rothko had dropped out of the University in 1923. While on campus for the awards ceremony, Rothko ran into his cousin Ed Weinstein who asked him after the ceremony if he was going to have lunch with the rest of the recipients. Rothko responded, "Who needs their lunch. I'm going back to New York." (RO539)

Mark Rothko:

I want to thank the University and the awards committee for the honor you have chosen to confer on me. You must believe me that the acceptance of such honors is as difficult as the problem of where to bestow them.

When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing: no galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today is not quite the same... But I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow. We must all hope they find them. (RO539)

June 18 - October 5, 1969: "The New American Painting and Sculpture: The First Generation" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.

Curated by William Rubin, the director of painting and sculpture at MoMA, the show featured, in addition to Mark Rothko and other Ab Ex heavyweights, work by Esteban Vicente, Romare Bearden, James Brooks, Ibram Lassaw, Alfonso Ossorio and Herbert Ferber.

Mark Rothko gifted to The Museum of Modern Art five paintings prior to the exhibition which, along with other Rothko paintings, were shown in a separate room. The gift included Rothko's Slow Swirl by the Edge of Sea. It was the last year that the IRS allowed artists to deduct the market value of a gift of art from the artist's income tax. In December 1969 Congress passed the Tax Reform Act (retroactive to July 25, 1969) which changed the deduction from the market value of a work to the cost of the raw materials. (LM86)

June 1969: The Mark Rothko Foundation is incorporated.

According to a memo dated August 1, 1969 ("Note on a Discussion with Mark Rothko in New York") written by Norman Reid, the director of the Tate Gallery in London, Rothko stated to him that the purpose of the Foundation was "to help artists over 55 who may not have met with commercial success." (RO517/668n18) Reid wrote the memo after meeting with Rothko in New York. Yet the certificate of incorporation for the Foundation only stated that the Foundation's funds should be spent "exclusively for charitable, scientific and/or education purposes." Bernard Reis later said that he had left the language vague on purpose in order not to "bind" the directors. (RO540)

The list of directors as stipulated in Rothko's September 1968 will had changed by the time of its incorporation. William Rubin had been removed and two new directors were added: Clinton Wilder (one of Bernard Reis' clients) and composer Morton Feldman (a friend of Rothko's).

According to Lee Seldes in The Legacy of Mark Rothko, "... Mell told Rubin that Bernard Reis had influenced Rothko against him. But the other directors agree that Rothko was angry because Rubin had suggested he be paid a fee as a consultant to the foundation." Bernard Reis later recalled that when he told Rothko about Rubin's demands, Rothko replied, "I don't want to have anything to do with that son of a bitch." (RO676-77n75)

June 19, 1969: Barnett Newman speaks at anti-expressway rally at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Newman's studio on White Street was one of the places at risk by the proposed construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. He joined the Artists Against the Expressway and spoke at a rally at the Whitney against its construction. Mayor John Lindsay cancelled the plans for the expressway in July. (MH)

June/July 1969: Willem de Kooning goes to Italy.

De Kooning was invited to Italy by Priscilla Morgan, a theatrical agent who was helping to produce Gian Carlo Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto and wanted to include a small show of de Kooning's work. De Kooning invited Susan Brockman to go with him - to the displeasure of Joan Ward. He had kept in touch with Susan on various trips he made to New York, often to see his dentist. The Spoleto exhibition was to run June 28 - July 13. (DK523)

In Italy de Kooning spent some time in Rome, staying in a suite at the Albergo Nazionale. He and Priscilla Morgan were sitting in a cafe behind a hedge when a man poked his head over the hedge and exclaimed "My God, it's Bill de Kooning." It was the sculptor Herzl Emanuel who had made Rome his home since 1962. Bill knew Herzl from the Depression and WPA days in New York and had proposed him for membership in the Club. Herzl had been an active member of the Communist Party during the 30s and 40s and lost his teaching job during the Cold War of the 1950s and moved to Rome. He offered Bill a studio space at his foundry in Rome. While there Bill experimented with sculpting, making thirteen small figures ranging from seven inches to a little over fifteen inches in height. He often spent his days sculpting and then, after dinner with friends, would wander around the city. Priscilla Morgan recalled "We would walk all night. He was a night person." (DK525)

In Spoleto de Kooning stayed at Menotti's palace and was given a room in the backstage area of one of the theaters where he did some pen and ink drawings. Prior to leaving Italy for New York at the end of July he arranged for Emanuel to cast his sculpted figures in bronze. There was to be six editions of each work signed and numbered with "de Kooning" written on them as de Kooning would not be there to sign them at the time of the casting. (DK528)

August 1, 1969 - November 30, 1969: Barnett Newman exhibits Zim Zum I at "The First International Exhibition of Modern Sculpture" in Japan.

The exhibition at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Hakone, Tokyo, was originally scheduled to close at the end of October but was extended to November 30, 1969. Newman made the sculpture at Lippincott, Inc. He originally intended it to be 12 feet high but had to scale it down to 8 feet so that it could be shipped to Tokyo. (MH)

Summer 1969: Mark Rothko receives a cardboard model of the planned Rothko room at the Tate Gallery.

The director of the Tate sent the model at Rothko's request, having already sent him a space plan for the room. (RO517)

End July 1969: Willem de Kooning sculpts.

When he returned from Rome and Spoleto, de Kooning stayed with Susan Brockman at first and then started again visiting Joan and Lisa in Long Island. He eventually returned to the Springs. At the recommendation of Sculpture House in New York, he hired David Christian to make a larger trial version of one of the small figures he had sculpted in Italy called Seated Woman. It was eventually cast by the Modern Art Foundry in Astoria Queens. (DK528)

August 1, 1969: The director of the Tate Gallery visits Mark Rothko in his studio.

Norman Reid, the director of the Tate, hoped to reach a final agreement about Rothko's bequest to the Tate of paintings to be included in the Rothko room. Rothko told Reid that his illness and conversations with friends had caused him to change his mind about the conditions of the bequest. Reid put forth Rothko's stipulations in a memo dated August 1, 1969 in which he noted that Rothko "is not willing to select a varied group of pictures to show his work over a period of time" and "He is clearly not prepared to give pictures which may remain in the basement for even part of the time." (RO517)

Autumn 1969: Barnett Newman travels to Houston to discuss a site for Broken Obelisk.

Broken Obelisk is now permanently installed in the reflecting pool on the grounds of Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, USA.
(Photo: Ed Uthman)

Broken Obelisk, which had been rejected by the city of Houston because the de Menils, who paid for it, insisted that it be dedicated to Martin Luther King, had been temporarily installed outside the Seagram building in New York. Newman and the de Menils decided to located the statue on a pool outside the Rothko Chapel. The only problem was that somebody's house was already on the proposed site. Dominque de Menil recalled, "A house happened to be at this location. It was bought and pulled down without a moment's hesitation." (RO483-4)

September 12, 1969: Barnett Newman speaks at Dan Flavin retrospective in Canada.

Newman was the inaugural speaker at his friend's retrospective, "fluorescent light, etc. from Dan Flavin," at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. (MH)

October 16, 1969 - February 1, 1970: "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940 - 1970" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Curated by Henry Geldzahler, the exhibition included works by Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman (ten paintings and three sculptures), Kenneth Noland, Adolph Gottlieb, Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, Larry Poons, Joseph Cornell, Mark De Suvero, Hans Hofmann, Helen Frankenthaler, George Segal, Jules Olitski, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Phillip Pavia, Larry Poons, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and others. Emile de Antonio, filmed some of the work and interviewed some of the painters for a documentary, Painters Painting.

November 3, 1969: The director of the Tate Gallery visits Rothko again to view ten of the Seagram murals.

Tate director Norman Reid spent five hours at Rothko's studio. Reid later recalled that Bernard Reis had warned Reid that Rothko "was in a very depressed state of mind about his work." Reid noted about his visit that "a lot of time was spent reassuring him [Rothko] that the Tate did want to have the paintings, and in this I appear to have been successful." Reed rejected two of the works because they would have required a considerable amount of restoration. Using a cardboard model of the room in which they were to hang and miniature copies of the murals, they examined various arrangements. Reid suggested that Rothko travel to London to supervise their installation, but Rothko (to Reid's relief) said that he wasn't able to leave America for health reasons. (RO517-8)

November 5, 1969: Bernard Reis advises Rothko to consummate his agreement with the Tate.

Reis sent Rothko a memo noting that the current tax law allowed Rothko a contribution to a museum valued at 30% of his income "and the amount which you give in 1969 if not used in that year can be carried forward for five years," but that "this privilege will expire on December 31, 1969." Reis advised that "It is for this reason that the gift which you are making to the Tate should be consummated as quickly as possible." (RO668n19)

November 7, 1969: Mark Rothko signs a letter of agreement with the Tate Gallery.

In the letter of agreement Rothko noted "a room has been created for me in the Tate Gallery next to and similar to the rooms now used for the exhibition of Picasso, Matisse & Giacometti works of art... it is understood that there will be no other works of art of any kind except those created by me." (Sir Robert Sainsbury, chair of the trustees, wrote to Rothko on November 20th telling him that although the museum could not promise to keep the paintings in Gallery 18, the museum would not sell any of the works.) (RO669n23)

James E.B. Breslin [from Mark Rothko: A Biography]:

During his lifetime, Rothko never sold any of the mural paintings from the second or third series. He showed the paintings to visitors in his Bowery studio; he included nine of the paintings in his 1961 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art; and in 1969, after a prolonged negotiation, he completed a gift of nine murals to the Tate Gallery in London. In 1978 the Pace Gallery exhibited ten of the murals then in Rothko's estate, a group which the gallery identified as from the second series. After receiving a gift from the Mark Rothko Foundation in 1985, the National Gallery created a room with six of the murals, claiming they created "a coherent environment as intended by Rothko." During 1988-89 the Tate Gallery in Liverpool showed the nine Tate paintings, along with three of the Seagram panels in Rothko's estate, the gallery's director claiming that the display "marks the first attempt to create the ambience which would have resulted from the murals had they ever been completed and installed in the restaurant." In 1989 the Kunsthalle Basel organized an exhibit of thirty of the panels, the catalogue printing Thomas Kellein's essay proposing a theory of Rothko's intended hanging at the Four Seasons. Today the paintings have been dispersed, displaced. Nine of the panels remain at the Tate [Modern] in London, seven are now at the Kawamura Museum of Modern Art in Japan, thirteen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, others remain in the collections of Rothko's children. (RO409)

December 8, 1969: 18 Mark Rothko paintings are sold to the Marlborough Gallery.

Rothko sold three of the paintings outright, receiving $63,000 ($84,000 less 25% commission). Six paintings were sold by Rothko for $114,000 ($152,000 less 25% commission) with the amount to be paid in ten installments of $11,400 beginning May 1, 1970. Three of the paintings were sold by the Mark Rothko Foundation for $75,000 ($100,000 less 25% commission with the amount to be paid in four $18,750 payments beginning February 15, 1970. Six of the paintings were sold by Rothko's children (or their trusts) for $144,000 ($192,000 less 25% commission) with the amount to be paid in ten installments of $14,400 beginning May 1, 1970. The conditions of sale were noted in a written document from Frank Lloyd, the director of the Marlborough to Mark Rothko, dated December 8, 1969. (RO677-78n84)

December 1969: Mark Rothko has a party.

On display were Rothko's dark Black on Grey and Brown on Grey paintings created earlier in the year. Reaction to the paintings was mixed. Many of the people who saw them, either at the party or afterwards, thought them bleak and depressing. Jonathan Ahearn saw the paintings while visiting Rothko and later commented that he found them "ominous" and "filled with impending doom." (LM84) According to Lee Seldes in The Legacy of Mark Rothko, "Without realizing what he saying, one collector was surprised to find 'Reinhardts' in Rothko's studio. (LM84) Philip Guston later committed "Of course he [Rothko] was ecstatic about those pictures. Like me. When I finish the most horribly depressing painting, I can barely contain myself. I lie down on the floor and rollick with laughter."

Brian O'Doherty:

Rothko invited an elite collection of educated eyes to look at the dark works lining the walls... The incongruity of that occasion remains fresh: the small talk and banter under the high ceiling of the old firehouse on 69th Street while the works around the walls contracted to windows into some original darkness.

At least some of Rothko's guests thought the paintings contributed to the gloom of the party. Rebecca Reis, later recalled "I was never in life anywhere at so desolate a party." (RO525)

From The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes:

He [Mark Rothko] painted some twenty different blacks on grays. Like the chapel murals, these paintings would affect viewers with their awesome finality and would also fulfil one of Rothko's aspirations: 'What I want,' he told Ahearn, among others, 'is for people to cry when they experience my paintings. The way I do when I hear Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.' The blacks on grays have been compared in emotional and intellectual depth, in fact, to Beethoven's last quartets... After this phase, as Jack Tworkov points out, Rothko had nowhere to go. (LM84-5)

December 1969: Mark Rothko attends Katherine Kuh's Christmas party.

Kuh recalled that Rothko was "very upset" and "didn't talk to anyone; he just kept following me out to to the kitchen." He told her that "part of him did want to go back [to Mell], but he realized that the past with its many bitter confrontations could no longer be bridged. 'It just wouldn't work,' he claimed. And then he said, 'I've been thinking. They both [Mell and Rita Reinhardt] would be better off if I got out of their lives.'" (RO538)

December 30, 1969: Mark Rothko donates three paintings to the Museum of Modern Art.

The three paintings he donated were Number 24, 1947/8, Untitled (c. 1948) and Number 22, 1950.

While negotiating the terms of the gift, Rothko brought up the possibility of having a Mark Rothko room at the museum to display his works in perpetuity but MoMA was unable to make that commitment. He also wanted to stipulate that the paintings should not travel, be loaned, sold or exchanged. Any painting not shown for more than two years (except in case of building work), would be returned to the Mark Rothko Foundation. Again, the museum refused to accept such conditions. In the end, Rothko gave them "all right to possession, dominion and control" of the the three paintings. (RO669n23)

to 1970

Abstract Expressionism

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