Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel

Annie Cohen-Solal
  • Review
By – March 6, 2015

Mark Rothko (19031970) was born in the town of Dvin­sk in the Russ­ian Empire; by the time he was ten, anti-Semit­ic pogroms forced the fam­i­ly to move to Amer­i­ca. Short­ly after the whole fam­i­ly had final­ly arrived in Ore­gon, Rothko’s father died. The eleven-year-old boy recit­ed Kad­dish for his father and then quit hav­ing any con­nec­tion to orga­nized Judaism. A keen stu­dent with a lit­er­ary bent, Rothko went to Yale, dropped out, and then wan­dered New York a bit before dis­cov­er­ing he could express his ideas best as a visu­al artist. His paint­ing evolved over the decades, final­ly becom­ing an explo­ration of the expe­ri­ence of col­or abstrac­tion. Why did he decide to become a painter when there was no pre­vi­ous indi­ca­tion that he was inclined to the visu­al arts? How was he affect­ed by the Depres­sion, the Holo­caust, or the Black­list? What sort of women did he mar­ry? Read­ers curi­ous about Rothko’s pol­i­tics, his adult feel­ings about Judaism, or indeed any­thing at all about his inti­mate life, will have to look else­where. Cohen-Solal does dis­cuss anti-Semi­tism in Rus­sia in the late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry; Amer­i­can mod­ernist art move­ments; New York artists, art deal­ers; and muse­ums; and the details of par­tic­u­lar Rothko instal­la­tions — par­tic­u­lar­ly the Dau­gavpils Rothko Art Cen­tre in Latvia, which opened in 2013. Alas, read­ing this book is a bit like sit­ting down to a table of left­overs: one has the feel­ing that the best parts of the meal have already been eat­en. Illus­tra­tions, index, maps, notes.

Relat­ed content:

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

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