WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art
, the largest public repository of works by Mark Rothko, announced today a major exhibition of the artists paintings on paper. On view in the National Gallerys East Building from November 19, 2023, through March 31, 2024, the exhibition will examine some 100 paintings on paper that the artist viewed as finished works in their own right, rather than sketches or preliminary studies intended for his own eyes. By considering Rothkos work on paper, which is largely unfamiliar to art specialists and the public alike, the exhibition offers a new view of the development of the artists oeuvre. Made throughout Rothkos career, the works in the exhibition range from early watercolors of figurative subjects and mythological and surrealist works to oil and acrylic paintings in the artists signature format of soft-edged rectangular fields arranged against monochrome backgrounds. Many of the latter are monumental in scale, measuring up to seven feet tall. The exhibition will travel to the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Norway in 2024, where it will be the first major exhibition of the artists work held in Scandinavia.
The exhibition comes as the National Gallery approaches the culmination of a decades-long process of cataloging all of Mark Rothkos works on paper for a forthcoming catalogue raisonné that will be available as both an online resource and print publication. In February 2019, the National Gallery launched the online resource at rothko.nga.gov. As of February 2022, the resource allows users to browse, filter, sort, and compare 1,903 of the approximately 2,600 works on paper by Rothko held in public and private collections worldwide. Additional content being developed in association with this initiative includes an overarching study of Rothkos work on paper by the lead author of the catalogue raisonnéAdam Greenhalgh, associate curator at the National Galleryas well as a robust chronology, a biographical memoir by the artists daughter, Kate Rothko Prizel, and studies of Rothkos materials and process by National Gallery conservators. The online resource and print publication will be the definitive scholarly references for Rothkos works on paper. The National Gallery continues to seek information about drawings and paintings on paper to be considered for inclusion in the catalogue raisonné. Those with information can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.842.6779. The catalogue raisonné of works on paper follows the award-winning catalogue raisonné Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas by David Anfam, published in 1998 by the National Gallery and Yale University Press.
The National Gallery is privileged to hold the largest public collection of works by Mark Rothko, thanks to the Mark Rothko Foundations transformative 1986 gift. We are committed to the continued study of the artists work and to providing accessible resources through which the public can learn more about this renowned artist, said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. Together with the catalogue raisonné of Rothkos works on paper, this exhibition of the artists paintings on paper will add a new dimension to our understanding of his practice and output.
Paintings are often understood to be on canvas and drawings on paper. For Mark Rothko, paintings were paintings, regardless of whether he applied his paint to canvas or paper. Little known to general and scholarly audiences alike, Rothkos paintings on paper challenge expectations about what counts as painting, the hierarchy of media, and popular conceptions of the artist as primarily a painter of monumental abstract canvases. This exhibition includes 100 of the finest of these paintings on paperworks that Rothko considered on par with his works on canvas.
While Rothko made many studies and sketches on paper in graphite, ink, or even watercolor, he also created more than 1,100 paintings on paper. Some of these Rothko considered to be worthy of display or sale, as we know from the history of exhibitions during his life as well as an inventory of work in his possession that he completed shortly before his death.
The exhibition will contextualize Rothkos relationship with paper by focusing on four key periods when his engagement with it was particularly fruitful: the 1930s, 1944 to 1949, 1958 to 1959, and 1967 to 1969. Organized around these crucial moments, the exhibition explores how painting on paper affected the trajectory of Rothkos oeuvre. These moments reveal, for instance, how the early figural works presaged his later abstractions; how the stratified compositions and luminous washes of mid-1940s watercolors anticipated the diaphanous effects of his best-known canvases of the 1950s and 1960s; and how vibrant paintings on paper made in the final years of his life complicate long-standing associations between his canvases darkening palette and his physical and mental health. The works included in the exhibition draw from the National Gallerys robust holdings as well as those of other museums and private collections.
Mark Rothko and the National Gallery
In 1986 the Mark Rothko Foundation determined that its mission to conserve its collection of Rothkos art and to enhance and promote Rothkos legacy through scholarly research and exhibitions would best be served by strategically placing his canvases and works on paper in major museums internationally. The foundation designated 35 institutions to receive the art, among them the Art Institute of Chicago; the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; the Menil Collection, Houston, TX; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; and the Tate, London. As the principal recipient of the Mark Rothko Foundations gift, the National Gallery received more than 1,100 workspaintings on canvas and panel and works on paperas well as research materials, including conservation records and exhibition reviews. In 2007, Rothkos children, Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, further enhanced the National Gallerys holdings by donating to its library the manuscript for their fathers book, The Artists Reality: Philosophies of Art, which was edited by Christopher Rothko and published in 2004 by Yale University Press.
The National Gallery has presented the works of Mark Rothko in several special installations and exhibitions. In 1984, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper 1925-1970, organized by the Mark Rothko Foundation and circulated by the American Federation of Arts, opened at the National Gallery and traveled throughout the United States. In 1998, Jeffrey Weiss, then a National Gallery curator of modern and contemporary art, organized the retrospective Mark Rothko. The 20032007 installation Rothkos Mural Commissions marked the centennial of Rothkos birth. In 20102011, In the Tower: Mark Rothko presented seven of Rothkos black-on-black paintings from 1964 and nine earlier works, while in 20112012, an installation featured three paintings derived from Rothkos Seagram Murals project.
Additionally, since receiving the gift from the Mark Rothko Foundation in 1986, the National Gallerys National Lending Service has lent more than 240 works by Rothko to more than 200 museums, galleries, and embassies worldwide.
When the National Gallerys East Building reopened in 2016 following renovations, it added a new gallery that became the museums first space dedicated to the work of Mark Rothko. Since then, the skylit space on the Tower Level has consistently featured a rotating selection of paintings from the National Gallerys collection and become a beloved destination of visitors to the museum.