Mark Rothko, one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, was born in Daugavpils, Latvia in 1903. His father emigrated to the United States, afraid that his sons would be drafted into the Czarist army. Mark stayed in Russia with his mother and older sister; they joined the family later, arriving in the winter of 1913, after a 12-day voyage.
Mark moved to New York in the autumn of 1923 and found employment in the garment trade and took up residence on the Upper West Side. It was while he was visiting someone at the Art Students League that he saw students sketching a nude model. According to him, this was the start of his life as an artist. He was twenty years old and had taken some art lessons at school, so his initial experience was far from an immediate calling.
In 1936, Mark Rothko began writing a book, which he never completed, about the similarities in the children's art and the work of modern painters. The work of modernists, which was influenced by primitive art, could, according to him, be compared to that of children in that "child art transforms itself into primitivism, which is only the child producing a mimicry of himself." In this same work, he said that "the fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic. We start with colour."
It was not long before his multiforms developed into the style he is remembered for; in 1949 Rothko exhibited these new works at the Betty Parsons Gallery. For critic Harold Rosenberg, the paintings were a revelation. Rothko had, after painting his first multiform, secluded himself to his home in East Hampton on Long Island, only inviting a very few people, including Rosenberg, to view the new paintings. The discovery of his definitive form came at a period of great grief; his mother Kate died in October 1948 and it was at some point during that winter that Rothko chanced upon the striking symmetrical rectangular blocks of two to three opposing or contrasting, yet complementary colours. As part of this new uniformity of artistic vision, his paintings and drawings no longer had individual titles; from this point on they were simply untitled, numbered or dated. However, to assist in distinguishing one work from another, dealers would sometimes add the primary colours to the name. Additionally, for the next few years, Rothko painted in oil only on large vertical canvasses. This was done to overwhelm the viewer, or, in his words, to make the viewer feel enveloped within the picture.
On February 25, 1970, Oliver Steindecker, Rothko’s assistant, found him in his kitchen, lying on the floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. His arms had been cut open with a razor. The emergency doctor arrived on the scene minutes later to pronounce him dead as the result of suicide; it was discovered during the autopsy that he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. He was just 66 years old.