Mark Rothko was one of the most famous artists in the world, Jewish or otherwise. His style of color block formations on canvas is instantly recognizable, even for the art novice.
Rothko was born in 1903 in what is now Latvia. He received a political, not religious, education from his father, but could still speak Yiddish and Hebrew fluently.
But rising anti-Semitic sentiment left the Rothkos plagued by fear and, dreading his sons would be drafted in the Czarist army, Rothko’s father moved the family to the US.
The family settled in Oregon where Rothko began attending school. He received a scholarship to Yale, where he launched a satirical magazine, “The Yale Saturday Evening Pest.”
Rothko dropped out of Yale after two years, but received an honorary degree from the school 46 years later.
Rothko later lived in New York City, working in the garment district. He would cite a moment watching art students sketch as his inspiration to enter the art world. He enrolled in the Grand Central School of Art, where he established a circle of friends and mentors passionate about artistic technique.
Rothko’s style evolved over time, his early work depicting city scenes and nature themes, not the color blocks he is most often associated with today. By the 1940’s, however, his multiforms—the name critics gave to his color blocks—were well established.
By this point Rothko had earned wide acclaimed for his talents, and he enjoyed the successes of the New York art elite. He drew coveted commissions, including one with the Four Seasons.
In 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. He followed doctors’ orders to cut back at work and not exert himself, but the diagnosis took a toll on his personal life. He committed suicide on February 25, 1970.
Today, Rothko is remembered as a leader in modern art and his pieces are some of the most respected in the field. In 2005, his “Homage to Matisse” took $22.5 million, breaking the record for post-war art sale. In 2007, a Rothko painting broke that record again, taking in $72.8 million. And in 2012, Rothko broke the record once more, earning $86.9 million for his “Orange, Red, Yellow.”