Mark Rothko’s Untitled 1955: A Glowing Icon in the Art World

Christie’s recently announced the inclusion of Mark Rothko’s masterpiece, Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) from 1955, as the crowning jewel of the 20th Century Evening Sale, set to captivate audiences at Rockefeller Center on November 9, 2023, during the highly anticipated Marquee Week of sales.

This towering canvas, standing nearly seven feet tall, bathes the observer in a captivating and dramatic golden radiance.

A Glimpse into Rothko’s Bold and Complex Artistry

Filled with rich and dynamic fields of colour, Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) offers an exceptional insight into the boldness and complexity that defined Rothko’s most successful works. Remarkably, this painting had once graced the artist’s personal collection until his passing.

Subsequently, it found its way into the hands of legendary 20th-century collectors and art patrons, Paul and Bunny Mellon, who cherished it for over half a century. The artwork is now estimated to command a staggering price in the region of $45 million.

Mark Rothko's Untitled 1955: A Glowing Icon in the Art World

Alex Rotter, Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art at Christie’s, comments on this masterpiece: “Rothko stands tall among the giants of 20th-century art. His deliberate and singular approach to painting aimed to reach new heights, provoking a psychological impact unparalleled by any other artist of his time. His work continues to mesmerize viewers across generations, eliciting profound emotional responses—a quasi-religious experience for those who stand in its presence.

The painting we present is a peerless example, all-encompassing and radiating an indescribable warmth and intensity. We couldn’t be more thrilled to feature this masterpiece as the star of the season at Christie’s, especially alongside the artist’s international retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.”

A Pivotal Year in Rothko’s Career

Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) was created in the same year as Rothko’s inaugural solo exhibition at the legendary Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. Of the 22 paintings completed by the artist that year, over half have since found a home in major museum collections worldwide. Influenced by the Old Masters he encountered during his European sojourns, Rothko meticulously honed his revolutionary painting technique.

His aim was to evoke the same emotional resonance and dramatic impact he had experienced when standing before the masterpieces of the Western canon.

The interplay of light that emanates from the surface of Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) showcases Rothko at the zenith of his artistic prowess. This quality is underscored by David Anfam in his illuminating discussion of the dynamic surface of the painting in his introductory essay to the artist’s catalogue raisonné.

A Chance Encounter with Matisse

In part, the alchemy within Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) owes its existence to a serendipitous encounter Rothko had with the work of one of the 20th century’s preeminent masters, Henri Matisse. Rothko’s revelation occurred when he laid eyes upon “The Red Studio” (1911) at the Museum of Modern Art in 1949. This transformative experience infused Rothko’s subsequent works with an opulent spectrum of colours, forever intertwining rich saturation with the essence of this iconic artist.

In conclusion, Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) 1955 stands as a radiant testament to the artist’s genius and his ability to evoke profound emotions through colour and form. Its journey through the hands of collectors and its mesmerizing play of light continue to define its significance in the art world. As it takes centre stage at Christie’s, this masterpiece invites us all to bask in the timeless glow of Rothko’s artistic legacy.

Images: Christie’s

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