Mark Rothko (1903−1970) 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.
- Jewish Artists reading list
- The Yale University Press Jewish Lives Series
- Action/Abstraction: Pollack, De Kooning, and American Art, 1950 – 1976 by Norman L. Kleeblatt, ed.
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.