N. 3/ N. 13. 1949

“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions.” Mark Rothko

Untitled (1944-46)/ Watercolor, tempera, ink, and pencil on paper
Mark Rothko sought to make paintings that would bring people to tears. “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on,” he declared. “And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions….If you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.”1 Like his fellow New York School painters Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, Rothko painted to plumb the depths of himself and the human condition. For him, art was a profound form of communication, and art making was a moral act.

This painting signals a shift in Rothko’s practice—from working in a Surrealist mode, inspired by encounters with European artists displaced during World War II, to focusing on the relationship between space, colour, and scale in abstract paintings that later became known as Multiforms. Here, Rothko applied thin washes of paint to canvas to create irregular forms that ebb and flow across the picture plane. Its large size and abstract style foreshadowed the artist’s signature Colour Field paintings, which he began making a year after completing this work.
No. 1 (Untitled). 1948. 

His colour formations draw the observer into a space filled with an inner light. Rothko always resisted attempts to interpret his paintings. He was mainly concerned with the viewer's experience, the merging of work and recipient beyond verbal comprehension. "No possible set of notes can explain our paintings," he once said. "Their explanation must come out of a consummated experience between picture and onlooker. The appreciation of art is a true marriage of minds. And in art as in marriage, lack of consummation is grounds for annulment."

No. 10. 1950

N. 3/ N. 13. 1949

Green on Blue. 1956

Untitled. 1969

Sketch for Mural No. 6. 1958