Abstract Expressionism, the style of painting that achieved prominence in the 1950s, encompasses two very different sensibilities. One, exemplified by the work of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, is characterized by energetic brushwork and rhythmic, dynamic compositions; the other, contemplative in tone and made up of subtle color harmonies, relatively static compositions, and simple forms, is embodied by the paintings of Mark Rothko.
By 1950 Rothko developed the compositional format that he was to use, with refinements and variations, for the rest of his life. In these completely abstract works, color and shape replace traditional narrative content and figurative imagery. Two or three horizontal bars of varying size and color dominate the large, primarily vertical canvases, and they appear to hover on the picture surface. This effect is produced in part by the "halo" created around the horizontal bands as they overlap the background color. It is also enhanced by the translucency of the paint, which was so diluted that it actually saturated and stained the fibers of the canvas. Although Rothko minimized the tactile nature of the medium, these paintings still retain a painterly quality in their subtle brushwork and in the ragged edges of the forms.
In Rothko's oeuvre color varies greatly, and it evokes a full range of emotions. The primary hues of red and yellow that make up "No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow)" are bright and joyous, while other works are composed of dark, brooding maroons, blues, and greens. In the two years before his suicide in 1970, the artist produced a large series of dark paintings, the majority of which were executed on paper with acrylics. Made up of opaque, monochromatic grays, browns, and blacks, these works are generally simpler in structure and eliminated the floating effect that previously enlivened paintings like "No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow)."
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (verso): #13–1958/ MARK ROTHKO
the artist, New York (1967–d.1970; his estate, consigned to Marlborough Gallery A.G., Liechtenstein, 1970–77; returned to the artist's estate, 1977–79; transferred in 1979 to the Rothko Foundation); Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., New York (1979–85; gift to MMA)
Venice. Museo d'Arte Moderna. "Mark Rothko," June 21–October 15, 1970, no. 18 (as "White, Red on Yellow").
Kunsthaus Zürich. "Mark Rothko," March 21–May 9, 1971, no. 42 (as "Weiss, Rot auf Gelb").
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "Mark Rothko," May 26–July 19, 1971, no. 42.
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. "Mark Rothko," August 24–October 3, 1971, no. 42.
Rotterdam. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. "Mark Rothko," November 20, 1971–January 2, 1972, no. 42.
London. Hayward Gallery. "Mark Rothko," February 2–March 12, 1972, no catalogue.
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," October 27, 1978–January 14, 1979, no. 153 (as "White, Red on Yellow," lent anonymously).
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," February 8–April 1, 1979, no. 153.
Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," April 21–June 10, 1979, no. 153.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," July 3–September 26, 1979, no. 153.
Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. "Tracking the Marvelous," April 28–May 30, 1981, unnumbered cat. (p. 20; as "White, Red on Yellow").
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "Mark Rothko," May 3–August 16, 1998, no. 75 (as "No. 13").
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Mark Rothko," September 10–November 29, 1998, no. 75.
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. "Mark Rothko," January 14–April 18, 1999, no. 75.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
H. C. "Zurich: Mark Rothko." Werk 58 (May 1971), ill. p. 357.
F. "Stationen zum Mysterium." St. Galler Tagblatt (April 4, 1971), p. 11.
Arnold Kohler. "Rothko ou la meditation solennelle." La Tribune de Geneve (April 13, 1971), p. 23, ill.
Jerrold K. Footlick with Mary Rourke. "The Rothko Case." Newsweek (December 29, 1975), ill. p. 37.
William R. Hegeman. "Rothko–Driven by a Desire to Find Images of More Than Ordinary Power." Minneapolis Tribune (May 13, 1979), ill. p. 5 (color).
"The Mark Rothko Legacy." America Illustrated 346 (September 1985), ill. p. 40 (color).
Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), p. 35, fig. 27 (color), calls it "Untitled (Number 13)".
Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1985–1986. New York, 1986, p. 59, ill. and ill. cover (color), calls it "Untitled (Number 13)".
Lisa Mintz Messinger in20th Century Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Vol. 2, Painting: 1945-1985. New York, 1986, p. 36, ill. (color), calls it "Untitled (Number 13)".
William S. Lieberman in20th Century Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Vol. 2, Painting: 1945–1985. New York, 1986, p. 7.
Roger Lipsey. An Art of Our Own: The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art. Boston, 1988, p. 313, fig. 80, calls it "Untitled (Number 13)"; discusses it as an example of Rothko's classic composition of two or more stacked rectangles that emerged in 1949.
Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit. Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais. Cambridge, Mass., 1993, pp. 102, 110, 117, call it "Untitled (Number 13)" and discuss it as an example of Rothko's mastery of color.
Diane Waldman. Mark Rothko in New York. New York, 1994, p. 26, no. 37, ill. (color).
Carol Mancusi-Ungaro in Jeffrey Weiss. Mark Rothko. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Washington, D.C., 1998, pp. 290, 293, no. 75, ill. p. 163 (color), notes that the staples along the sides of the strainer were painted over, demonstrating Rothko's incorporation of the structural elements of the canvas into the composition and his "insistence on the importance of the painted edge"; discusses the layering of pigment to create form in this picture.
David Anfam. Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas. Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, 1998, p. 482, no. 620, ill. (color), calls it "No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow)".
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 426, ill. (color), posits that this work was painted upside down at some point, based on the direction of drips.
"Painters in Postwar New York City." Benezit: Subject Guide. 2014 [http://www.oxfordartonline.com.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/subscriber/page/benz/themes/PostwarNYC] ill. (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 531, ill. (color), colorpl. 473.