“I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene… that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface,” wrote Mark Rothko. The abstract artist made no bones about the way he intended his large-scale color field paintings to be interpreted. Now, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is taking a deep dive into his life and works, presenting the first major show in France dedicated to Rothko since 1999.
Running through April 2024, the sprawling retrospective will showcase over 100 works gathered from galleries and private collections from across the globe.
The Paris show is co-curated by the artist’s son, Christopher Rothko, and overseen by Suzanne Page who also helmed the 1999 exhibition at the Musée d’Art.
Born in 1903 in Dvinsk in the Russian Empire, now Latvia, Markus Rothkowitz was the fourth child of a liberal Jewish couple. In 1913, the family emigrated to Portland in the United States. Rothko attended Yale on a scholarship before dropping out and settling in New York. Here, he began taking classes at the Art Students League, briefly studying under Max Weber. He became a naturalized citizen in 1938, taking the name Mark Rothko two years later as fears of the rising Nazi influence spread through Europe.
What can you expect from the new exhibition? The Rothko retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton will take visitors on a journey through the artist’s entire career from his early figurative paintings to the abstract canvases he is best known for.
Highlights from the show include nine of Rothko’s Seagram Murals. The wall paintings were originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York’s Seagram building, but Rothko dramatically renounced his contact, later donating several of the pieces to be displayed in a dedicated room at the Tate.
Other pieces to look out for include his Black and Grey series (1969-1970). Painted in the final years of his life, Rothko left behind the brighter palettes of his earlier works to craft the desolate pieces. However, viewers are advised against simplistic interpretations associating the grey and black tones as symbolic of his mental health (Rothko’s health deteriorated and he committed suicide at his studio in 1970).
For Bernard Arnault, president of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the show has been a long time coming. “Exhibiting such a broad, thorough, and representative set of works by Mark Rothko at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the autumn of 2023 is the fulfillment of a long-standing personal wish,” he said.
“Rothko is one of my favorite artists. Yet he is poorly known and acknowledged in France and Europe. I therefore wanted the Fondation to redress this injustice, to fill an unfortunate gap largely explained by his under-representation in museums and collections here.”