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A Catalogue Raisonné in Progress

The National Gallery of Art is seeking information about drawings, watercolors, and paintings on paper by the artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) in public and private collections for a multivolume catalogue raisonné. This scholarly publication will include comprehensive documentation on each known work on paper, including information about title, date, medium, dimensions, inscriptions, provenance, and exhibition and publication history, along with a color reproduction of each work.

The publication is expected to document more than 2,700 objects, many of which are largely unknown to both art specialists and the public. Demonstrating the range of Rothko's creative achievements, it will be the definitive historical record of his oeuvre on paper for decades to come.

All information associated with the ownership of works of art in the catalogue raisonné is strictly confidential, and wishes for anonymity will be fully respected.

To submit information, please download a PDF of the catalogue raisonné questionnaire or contact us at (202) 842-6779 or by e-mail at rothko@nga.gov.

Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas was published in 1998 by the National Gallery of Art in association with Yale University Press and was the recipient of the 2000 Mitchell Prize in the History of Art.

Rothko's Works on Paper

image of Untitled (Portrait of a Woman Wearing a Hat)

During the 1920s and 1930s Rothko produced hundreds of figurative works in watercolor, graphite, crayon, and ink on small sheets of paper and in sketchbooks, both as studies related to paintings and as independent works. These include images of nudes, portraits of family and friends, subway riders, and the geometry of the city, most of which have never before been reproduced.

image of Untitled

In the 1940s Rothko's work underwent radical changes as he explored a range of styles rooted in expressionism, symbolism, and surrealism. The experimental spirit and unique mastery of his watercolors and gouaches from this period contributed greatly to the development of his contemporaneous canvases as he moved increasingly toward abstraction. Rothko's compositions at the end of the decade, which are often titled "Multiforms," were marked by the translucent rectangles of color within a chromatic field that would become his signature style.

image of Untitled

Rothko worked on paper intermittently throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, and after a debilitating illness he turned almost exclusively to painting on paper from 1968 until his death in 1970. The classic paintings on paper in gouache, oil, and acrylic that Rothko made during these last two decades of his life were often mounted on panel or stretched canvas, which can lead to their being mistaken for paintings on canvas rather than works on paper.


Mark Rothko (named Marcus Rothkowitz) was born in 1903 in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia). He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was ten years old and settled in Portland, Oregon.

Intending to become an engineer or an attorney, Rothko enrolled at Yale University in 1921 but abandoned his studies in the fall of 1923 and settled in New York City. There he studied under Max Weber at the Art Students League and met the modernist painter Milton Avery, whose spare forms and subtle colors profoundly influenced the young artist's direction. During the 1920s and 1930s Rothko produced hundreds of figurative drawings and paintings, working on both paper and canvas, a practice he would continue throughout his career.

In the 1940s Rothko's art underwent radical changes in response to the war abroad and the chaos it generated. He was introduced to new ideas brought to New York by artists fleeing Europe, among them Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. During this decade Rothko's work moved increasingly toward abstraction as he explored a range of styles rooted in expressionism, symbolism, and surrealism.

By 1950 Rothko had arrived at his signature style, achieving his ideal of "the simple expression of the complex thought." This most often took the form of compositions of two to four rectangular forms, aligned vertically against a color ground. Within this format, Rothko used a broad spectrum of colors and tones, and a variety of formal relationships, to create moods and atmospheric effects ranging from dramatic to sober to lyric. Following an illness in 1968, Rothko relinquished his work on large canvases and concentrated almost exclusively on works on paper until his death in 1970.

The Authors

The catalogue raisonné, schedule to be determined, is being written by Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art, who has previously overseen the publication of several other Gallery-sponsored catalogues raisonnés, including those on Georgia O'Keeffe, the prints of Roy Lichtenstein, as well as the Gemini G.E.L. online catalogue raisonné. Working with her are research associates Laili Nasr and Janet Blyberg.


Anyone with information regarding works on paper by Mark Rothko should contact or submit a questionnaire to the Rothko Catalogue Raisonné Project.

Rothko Catalogue Raisonné Project
Department of Special Projects in Modern Art
National Gallery of Art
mailing address: 2000B South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785

telephone: (202) 842-6779
fax: 202-789-3204
e-mail: rothko@nga.gov

Download a PDF of the catalogue raisonné questionnaire.