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Expert art authentication, certificates of authenticity and expert art appraisals – Art Experts
Feb 25, 1970
Mark Rothko born Marcus Rothkowitz, was a Latvian-born American painter and printmaker who is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he rejected not only the label but even being an abstract painter. Rothko was born in Dvinsk, Latvia (Vitebsk guberniya, then part of the Russian Empire). His father Jacob was a pharmacist and an intellectual, who provided his children with a secular and political, rather than religious upbringing. However, following the Russian pogrom against Jews, incited by the 1905 revolution, Jacob repented and became a Baal teshuva. Unlike Jews in most cities of Czarist Russia, those in Dvinsk were spared a violent outbreak of reprisal. In an environment where Jews were often blamed for many of the evils that befell Russia, Rothko’s early childhood was plagued with fear, as he witnessed the occasional violence brought down upon Jews by Cossacks attempting to stifle revolutionary uprisings. An image that remained with him throughout his adult life was that of dug-up pits, where Cossacks were alleged to have buried Jews they kidnapped and murdered. Some critics interpret Rothko’s later use of rectangular forms as a formal representation of these graves. However, Rothko’s memory may be disputed, as no mass executions were said to have been committed in or near Dvinsk during this period.
Fearing that his sons were about to be drafted into the Czarist army, Jacob decided to emigrate to the United States, following the path of many other Jews who left Dvinsk in the wake of the Cossack purges, including two of his brothers who managed to establish themselves as clothing manufacturers in Portland, Oregon, not an uncommon profession among Eastern European immigrants. Marcus remained in Russia with his mother and elder sister Sonia; they joined Jacob and the elder brothers later, arriving at Ellis Island in the winter of 1913, following a 12-day journey at sea. Shortly after their arrival, on March 27, 1914, Jacob died, leaving his family without economic support. One of Marcus’ great aunts worked as an unskilled laborer and Sonia worked a cash register, while Marcus found employment in one of his uncle’s warehouses, selling newspapers to employees. Later, Marcus’ mother took in boarders and Sonia worked as a dental assistant, while the other brothers opened a pharmacy, following in their father’s footsteps.
In the spring of 1968, Rothko suffered an aneurysm of the aorta, a result of his chronic high blood pressure. Ignoring doctor’s orders, Rothko continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoid exercise and maintain an unhealthy diet. However, he followed the advice not to paint pictures larger than a yard in height and turned his attention to smaller formats, including acrylics on paper. Due to impotence, Rothko and his wife Mell separated on New Year’s Day 1969, and he moved into his studio. Sensing the end was near, Rothko and his financial advisor, Bernard Reis, created a foundation intended to fund “research and education” that would receive the bulk of Rothko’s work following his death. (Reis later sold the paintings to the Marlborough Gallery at a considerable loss and pocketed the difference with Gallery representatives, the result of which was one of the longest and most heavily hyped legal battles in art history.)
On February 25, 1970, Oliver Steindecker, Rothko’s assistant, found the artist in his kitchen, lying dead on the floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. His arms had been sliced open with a razor lying at his side. During autopsy it was discovered he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. He was 66 years old.