Rothko at Tate Modern

After having seen the play Red last week, what a thrill to unexpectedly be taken to see the work that was the subject of the play at the Tate Modern.In the late 1950s, Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of murals, 600 square feet of paintings, for the fashionable Four Seasons restaurant, in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, New York – the most prestigious public commission that had ever been awarded to an abstract expressionist painter, a tremendously lucrative and enviable chance to take his work to new heights of ambition.He set to work, having constructed a scaffold in his studio to match the exact dimensions of the restaurant. However, the murals were darker in mood than his previous work. The bright and intense colours of his earlier paintings shifted to maroon, dark red and black.Rothko was influenced by Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence, with its blind windows and deliberately oppressive atmosphere. Rothko commented that Michelangelo ‘achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall.’Only nine works were completed before Rothko recognised that the worldly setting of a restaurant would not be the ideal location for such a work, He withdrew from the commission. He later presented the series to the Tate Gallery.Six of the nine (each estimated to be worth £8m), are displayed as the artist intended, in reduced light and in a compact space, the subtlety of the layered surfaces slowly emerges, revealing their solemn and meditative character.


  1. Knowing your love of the abstract I can see why the paintings tickled your fancy at the Tate Modern. I can’t remember the exhibits when Frank and I visited apart from a giant spider.

  2. Paul

    Too ‘modern “ for me, as well as too expensive

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