No. 21

Mark Rothko (American (born Russia), Dvinsk 1903–1970 New York)

Oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas
80 x 39 3/8in. (203.2 x 100cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation Inc., 1985
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    In the pivotal year of 1949, Rothko distanced himself from his Surrealist-inspired work of the 1940s and began to explore pure abstraction by painting soft-focus squares in diaphanous colors. 1949 is also the year that Matisse's 1911 painting The Red Studio, in which the artist's room is subsumed by a brilliant field of solid Venetian red, went on view at the Museum of Modern Art. The combination in No. 21 of a deep red with slate blue underpainting is close to Matisse's painting. As if to emphasize the process that occurs in his own work, Rothko said of The Red Studio-purportedly his favorite modern picture-"When you looked at that painting, you became that color, you became totally saturated with it."

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (verso): MARK ROTHKO/1949

  • Provenance

    the artist, New York (1949–d.1970; his estate, consigned to Marlborough 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)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. Betty Parsons Gallery. "Mark Rothko," January 3–21, 1950, no catalogue [as "No. 21" in gallery records].

    Venice. Museo d'Arte Moderna. "Mark Rothko," June 21–October 15, 1970, no. 2 (as "Multiform").

    New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," October 27, 1978–January 14, 1979, no. 86 (as "Multiform," lent anonymously).

    Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," February 8–April 1, 1979, no. 86.

    Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," April 21–June 10, 1979, no. 86.

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," July 3–September 26, 1979, no. 86.

    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Mark Rothko 1949: A Year in Transition/Selections from The Mark Rothko Foundation," March 18, 1983–September 16, 1984, no. 2 (as "Multiform" on extended loan from The Mark Rothko
    Foundation, New York).

    Tate Gallery, London. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970," June 17–September 1, 1987, no. 28 (as "Untitled).

    Madrid. Fundación Juan March. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970," September 23, 1987–January 3, 1988, no. 12.

    Cologne. Museum Ludwig. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970," January 30–March 27, 1988, no. 24.

  • References

    Tommaso Trini. "Dietro la Luce di Rothko." Arte Illustrata 30–33 (June–September 1970), p. 63, fig. 2 (color).

    Teruo Fujieda. "Special Feature: Mark Rothko." Mizue, no. 888 (1979), ill. p. 50 (color).

    Karen Tsujimoto. Mark Rothko 1949: A Year in Transition/Selections from The Mark Rothko Foundation. Exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. San Francisco, 1983, pp. 10, 25, no. 2, ill. p. 17 (color).

    Bonnie Clearwater. Mark Rothko: Works on Paper. New York, 1984, ill. p. 35 (color).

    Donald M. Blinken et al. Eliminating the Obstacles Between the Painter and the Observer, The Mark Rothko Foundation: 1976–1986. [New York], [1986], p. 55.

    Lisa M. Messinger. Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1985–1986. New York, 1986, pp. 58–59, ill.

    Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), p. 35, fig. 26 (color).

    Carter Ratcliff. "Dandyism and Abstraction in a Universe Defined by Newton." Artforum 27 (December 1988), p. 86, ill. (color).

    Diane Waldman. Mark Rothko in New York. New York, 1994, p. 23, no. 25, ill. (color).

    David Anfam. Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas. Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, 1998, p. 310, no. 405, ill. (color).

    Bernice Rose. Rothko: A Painter's Progress, the Year 1949. Exh. cat., PaceWildenstein. New York, 2004, p. 20, fig. 10.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History