American (b. Russia, 1903–1970)
No. 5 (Untitled), 1949
Oil on unprimed canvas
One of the most influential members of the Abstract Expressionist movement in 1950s New York, Mark Rothko became a key figure in the genesis of American color field painting. No.5 (Untitled) marks the threshold of the artist’s definitive style with an emphasis on amorphous, blurred blocks of color. Not meant to be read as abstract, Rothko’s painting relayed poignant emotion and human drama. The painting’s uniformly somber palette of deep blue, gray-brown, and black is somewhat unusual. Most paintings of the period feature brighter fields of red, orange, and yellow. Rothko himself contended that darker colors conveyed the tragic state of existence more successfully than brighter hues.