Mark Rothko, ‘Black on Dark Sienna on Purple’, 1960, MOCA, Los Angeles

No. 12 (Black on Dark Sienna on Purple) is part of Mark Rothko’s mature body of work known as “multi-form paintings,” in which bands of densely ambient color in contrasting hues and values float on the canvas. No. 12 reflects the artist’s turn towards a more somber color palette; the muted, almost cave-like painting features two rectangles, black on top and sienna below, surrounded by a purplish border that appears to sink the shapes rather than float them. Despite its darkness, the painting possesses an extraordinary contemplative depth and embodies the spirit of an artist who stepped forward to confront the emptiness of modern life with his work.

The Panza Collection

Image rights: © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

About Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko’s search to express profound emotion through painting culminated in his now-signature compositions of richly colored squares filling large canvases, evoking what he referred to as “the sublime.” One of the pioneers of Color Field Painting, Rothko’s abstract arrangements of shapes, ranging from the slightly surreal biomorphic ones in his early works to the dark squares and rectangles in later years, are intended to evoke the metaphysical through viewers’ communion with the canvas in a controlled setting. “I'm not an abstractionist,” he once said. “I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” His “Rothko Chapel Paintings” (1964-1967), 14 wall-sized monochromatic black paintings installed in a non-denominational church in Houston, Texas, represent the realization of Rothko’s desire that his work be viewed in close quarters.

American, 1903-1970, Dvinsk, Russia, based in New York, New York