The paintings were commissioned in 1958 for a private dining room in the Seagram building in New York. When Rothko visited the room in which the works were to be displayed he decided to withdraw from the contract, possibly as a protest against the exclusive conditions in which the paintings would be surveyed. The nine ‘Seagram murals’ in Tate’s collection (other surviving paintings can be seen at museums in Washington and Tokyo) are united by simplicity of form – large vertical columns and frame-like structures predominate – and by their dark, fustian colour scheme: four of the paintings are titled Red on Maroon; five are called Black on Maroon. The example shown here belongs to the former series and was completed in 1959 (Tate T01165, fig.1). In many ways this particular Red on Maroon seems atypical of the series: a feathery, silver-grey veil appears to shimmer above a dark purple background; the red frame, which seems to hover above the painting, serves as a portal, inviting the viewer to gaze into the ineffable beyond.
In this respect it is worth considering the effect of scale. Measuring 2667 x 2388 mm, Red on Maroon is extremely large. ‘To paint a small picture’, Rothko once commented, ‘is to place yourself outside your experience. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command.’4 When enclosed in the windowless, claustrophobic space of the Seagram room, the viewer may well feel similarly overwhelmed. In his later works, particularly the Houston Chapel series and the grisaille paintings of his final phase, Rothko goes even further in equating the effects of scale and obscurity with the defeat of spiritual significance. In such works the force of the sublime seems utterly disabling; in an instant, the impulse towards transcendence is both raised and dashed. ‘Often, towards nightfall’, Rothko confessed, ‘there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration – all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.’5
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Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (verso): #13–1958/ MARK ROTHKO
the artist, New York (1967–d.1970; his estate, consigned to Marlborough Gallery 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)
Venice. Museo d'Arte Moderna. "Mark Rothko," June 21–October 15, 1970, no. 18 (as "White, Red on Yellow").
Kunsthaus Zürich. "Mark Rothko," March 21–May 9, 1971, no. 42 (as "Weiss, Rot auf Gelb").
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "Mark Rothko," May 26–July 19, 1971, no. 42.
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. "Mark Rothko," August 24–October 3, 1971, no. 42.
Rotterdam. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. "Mark Rothko," November 20, 1971–January 2, 1972, no. 42.
London. Hayward Gallery. "Mark Rothko," February 2–March 12, 1972, no catalogue.
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," October 27, 1978–January 14, 1979, no. 153 (as "White, Red on Yellow," lent anonymously).
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," February 8–April 1, 1979, no. 153.
Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," April 21–June 10, 1979, no. 153.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," July 3–September 26, 1979, no. 153.
Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. "Tracking the Marvelous," April 28–May 30, 1981, unnumbered cat. (p. 20; as "White, Red on Yellow").
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "Mark Rothko," May 3–August 16, 1998, no. 75 (as "No. 13").
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Mark Rothko," September 10–November 29, 1998, no. 75.
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. "Mark Rothko," January 14–April 18, 1999, no. 75.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
H. C. "Zurich: Mark Rothko." Werk 58 (May 1971), ill. p. 357.
F. "Stationen zum Mysterium." St. Galler Tagblatt (April 4, 1971), p. 11.
Arnold Kohler. "Rothko ou la meditation solennelle." La Tribune de Geneve (April 13, 1971), p. 23, ill.
Jerrold K. Footlick with Mary Rourke. "The Rothko Case." Newsweek (December 29, 1975), ill. p. 37.
William R. Hegeman. "Rothko–Driven by a Desire to Find Images of More Than Ordinary Power." Minneapolis Tribune (May 13, 1979), ill. p. 5 (color).
"The Mark Rothko Legacy." America Illustrated 346 (September 1985), ill. p. 40 (color).
Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), p. 35, fig. 27 (color), calls it "Untitled (Number 13)".
Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1985–1986. New York, 1986, p. 59, ill. and ill. cover (color), calls it "Untitled (Number 13)".
Lisa Mintz Messinger in20th Century Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Vol. 2, Painting: 1945-1985. New York, 1986, p. 36, ill. (color), calls it "Untitled (Number 13)".
William S. Lieberman in20th Century Art: Selections from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Vol. 2, Painting: 1945–1985. New York, 1986, p. 7.
Roger Lipsey. An Art of Our Own: The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art. Boston, 1988, p. 313, fig. 80, calls it "Untitled (Number 13)"; discusses it as an example of Rothko's classic composition of two or more stacked rectangles that emerged in 1949.
Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit. Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais. Cambridge, Mass., 1993, pp. 102, 110, 117, call it "Untitled (Number 13)" and discuss it as an example of Rothko's mastery of color.
Diane Waldman. Mark Rothko in New York. New York, 1994, p. 26, no. 37, ill. (color).
David Anfam. Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas. Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, 1998, p. 482, no. 620, ill. (color), calls it "No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow)".
Carol Mancusi-Ungaro in Jeffrey Weiss. Mark Rothko. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Washington, D.C., 1998, pp. 290, 293, no. 75, ill. p. 163 (color), notes that the staples along the sides of the strainer were painted over, demonstrating Rothko's incorporation of the structural elements of the canvas into the composition and his "insistence on the importance of the painted edge"; discusses the layering of pigment to create form in this picture.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 426, ill. (color), posits that this work was painted upside down at some point, based on the direction of drips.
"Painters in Postwar New York City." Benezit: Subject Guide. 2014 [http://www.oxfordartonline.com.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/subscriber/page/benz/themes/PostwarNYC] ill. (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 531, ill. (color), colorpl. 473.