John Mcewen com­ments on Black on Ma­roon

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Ann Christopher -

For half a year, Mark rothko worked on a set of ab­stract paint­ings to dec­o­rate the swanky Four Sea­sons restau­rant in the new Sea­gram build­ing on Park Av­enue, New York. It was a sign of his grow­ing fame that he re­ceived such a showy com­mis­sion; none­the­less, he ac­cepted it grudg­ingly ‘with strictly ma­li­cious in­ten­tions’, tak­ing wel­come pay­ment up front, but in­sist­ing on a break clause, be­cause he pri­vately de­spised ev­ery­thing the restau­rant rep­re­sented.

He wanted his in­di­vid­ual but all ma­roon-based paint­ings to form a ‘sin­gle place’, the clien­tele of ‘rich bas­tards’ to feel trapped. To this end, he worked within a frame of the restau­rant’s dimensions tem­po­rar­ily erected in his stu­dio.

As the say­ing went, you can take a Jew out of the shtetl, but not the shtetl out of a Jew. Born Marcus rothkovitz, rothko knew shtetl life. In his rus­sian child­hood, he had ex­pe­ri­enced the Tsar’s per­se­cu­tion, with a life­long fa­cial scar from a Cos­sack’s whip to prove it. Ar­riv­ing in the USA at 10, with­out money or English, he had suf­fered a refugee’s hu­mil­i­a­tion; de­pen­dent on suc­cess­ful un­cles, he felt the anger of a poor re­la­tion. His artis­tic strug­gle was long. In 1958, his stu­dio was still in Man­hat­tan’s run­down Bowery district. For work, he dressed like a tramp and thought it ob­scene to spend more than $5 on a meal.

one meal at the Four Sea­sons proved enough. He broke the con­tract. Eng­land’s fore­most con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tor, E. J. (‘Ted’) Power, alerted Sir Nor­man reid, Tate di­rec­tor, to the pic­tures’ avail­abil­ity. Nine were even­tu­ally pre­sented by the artist, of which this is one. They ar­rived at the Tate the day he com­mit­ted sui­cide in New York; a fit­ting lamen­ta­tion.

Black on

Ma­roon, 1958, by Mark Rothko (1903–70), 150in by 105in, Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don

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