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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)


Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation


ca. 1945

Mark Rothko

American, 1903-1970

Between 1944 and 1946, Rothko created a series of paintings with arabesque, biomorphic forms inspired by the French Surrealist idea automatism: an open-ended, stream-of-consciousness practice of drawing and writing intended to access a subject’s psyche. As many artists immigrated to the United States in the 1930s to flee war and prosecution, the Surrealists’ work became increasingly familiar, especially in New York circles. Untitled, painted during the last year of World War II, strikes a somber note, although spots of bright tones enliven the scene. Light became a core concept for Rothko: “For light makes it possible to substitute for the directness of the mythologist’s sensuality a new factor that we can call emotionality. In essence it is emotionality which replaced the myth.… The dramatic and emotional potential of different colored light and dark and the contrast between highlight and deep shadow, evoke a mood before even a word is spoken or any action is introduced.”
Oil on canvas
22 1/2 × 30 3/8 in. (57.1 × 77 cm)
Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis
Provenance: The artist; [Betty Parsons Gallery, New York]; [Rose Fried Gallery, New York]; Dr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Krimsley, New York; Mrs. Joseph M. Krimsley, New York; [Christie’s New York, Contemporary Art, Nov. 12, 1980, sale no. 5019, lot no. 12]; purchased by Jane and Richard E. Lang, Seattle, Washington, 1980; Friday Foundation, Seattle, Washington, 2018; to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 2020
Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Mark Rothko, Mar. 3 - 22, 1947.

New Directions in American Painting, organized by the Poses Institute of Fine Arts, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts (Utica, New York, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art, Dec. 1, 1963 - Jan. 5, 1964; New Orleans, Louisiana, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, Feb. 7 - Mar. 8, 1964; Atlanta, Georgia, Atlanta Art Association, Mar. 18 - Apr. 22, 1964; Louisville, Kentucky, J. B. Speed Art Museum, May 4 - June 7, 1964; Bloomington, Indiana, Art Museum, Indiana University, June 22 - Sept. 20, 1964; St. Louis, Missouri, Washington University, Oct. 5 - 30, 1964; Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, Nov. 10 - Dec. 6, 1964). Cat. no. 48 (as Untitled, ca. 1946).

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Richard and Jane Lang Collection, Feb. 2 - Apr. 1, 1984. Cat. no. 39, p. 54, reproduced.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Collects Paintings: Works in Private Collections, May 22 - Sept. 7, 1997. No cat. no.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, SAM at 75: Building a Collection for Seattle, May 5 - Sept. 9, 2007.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection, Oct. 15, 2021 - Nov. 27, 2022. Text by Jeffrey Weiss. No cat. no., pp.44, 54-57, 192, reproduced pp. 55 (pl. 1), 183.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Reverberations: Contemporary Art and Modern Classics, Dec. 22, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesA Community of Collectors: 75th Anniversary Gifts to the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum and University of Washington Press, 2008.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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