Red on Maroon, 1959 was part of a set commissioned for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York. Rothko later withdrew them on the grounds that they did not complement the setting. Whether the dark and brooding quality of these paintings was subconsciously or consciously created to clash with the restaurant setting has been debated – he has been credited with saying that he accepted the commission with ‘malicious intentions’. However, his wife said that as far as she could remember, he was unaware of the eventual setting of the commission.
Red on Maroon, 1959
182.9 x 457.2 cm
Date of work
Original: Mixed media on canvas 182.9 x 457.2 cm © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/ DACS 2014
Born in Russia in 1903, Rothko immigrated to America in 1913. In the early 1940s he began using archaic symbols and Jungian shapes to represent the primal emotions embedded in myths. By 1947 he had abandoned the human figure and developed a highly original form of abstraction with paintings showing large edges of colour. His death by suicide in 1970 lead many to believe that his work reflected his depressed state, but Rothko insisted that his work did not represent his personal emotions but rather his theories on the condition of humankind.