In the pivotal year of 1949, Rothko distanced himself from his Surrealist-inspired work of the 1940s and began to explore pure abstraction by painting soft-focus squares in diaphanous colors. 1949 is also the year that Matisse's 1911 painting The Red Studio, in which the artist's room is subsumed by a brilliant field of solid Venetian red, went on view at the Museum of Modern Art. The combination in No. 21 of a deep red with slate blue underpainting is close to Matisse's painting. As if to emphasize the process that occurs in his own work, Rothko said of The Red Studio—purportedly his favorite modern picture—"When you looked at that painting, you became that color, you became totally saturated with it."
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Artist:Mark Rothko (American (born Russia, now Latvia), Dvinsk 1903–1970 New York)
Medium:Oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas
Dimensions:80 × 39 3/8 in. (203.2 × 100 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation Inc., 1985
Inscription: Signed and dated (verso, center right): MARK ROTHKO/1949
the artist, New York (1949–d.1970; his estate, consigned to Marlborough 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)
New York. Betty Parsons Gallery. "Mark Rothko," January 3–21, 1950, no catalogue [as "No. 21" in gallery records].
Venice. Museo d'Arte Moderna. "Mark Rothko," June 21–October 15, 1970, no. 2 (as "Multiform").
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," October 27, 1978–January 14, 1979, no. 86 (as "Multiform," lent anonymously).
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," February 8–April 1, 1979, no. 86.
Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," April 21–June 10, 1979, no. 86.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970: A Retrospective," July 3–September 26, 1979, no. 86.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Mark Rothko 1949: A Year in Transition/Selections from The Mark Rothko Foundation," March 18, 1983–September 16, 1984, no. 2 (as "Multiform" on extended loan from The Mark Rothko Foundation, New York).
Madrid. Fundación Juan March. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970," September 23, 1987–January 3, 1988, no. 12.
Cologne. Museum Ludwig. "Mark Rothko, 1903–1970," January 30–March 27, 1988, no. 24.
Tommaso Trini. "Dietro la Luce di Rothko." Arte Illustrata 30–33 (June–September 1970), p. 63, fig. 2 (color), calls it "Multiforme".
Teruo Fujieda. "Special Feature: Mark Rothko." Mizue no. 888 (1979), ill. p. 50 (color).
Karen Tsujimoto. Mark Rothko 1949: A Year in Transition/Selections from The Mark Rothko Foundation. Exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. San Francisco, 1983, pp. 10, 25, no. 2, ill. p. 17 (color), cites the work as an example of the consolidation forms and pigments in his Rothko's "multiform" canvases of 1948–49.
Bonnie Clearwater. Mark Rothko: Works on Paper. Exh. cat., American Federation of Arts. New York, 1984, ill. p. 35 (color).
Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), p. 35, fig. 26 (color), calls it "Untitled".
Donald M. Blinken et al. Eliminating the Obstacles Between the Painter and the Observer, The Mark Rothko Foundation: 1976–1986. [New York], , p. 55.
Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1985–1986. New York, 1986, p. 58, ill., calls it "Untitled".
Carter Ratcliff. "Dandyism and Abstraction in a Universe Defined by Newton." Artforum 27 (December 1988), p. 86, ill. (color), calls it "Untitled".
Diane Waldman. Mark Rothko in New York. New York, 1994, p. 23, no. 25, ill. (color), mentions it among the artist's early, colorful abstractions, noting specifically the residual biomorphic shapes from his earlier Surrealist work.
David Anfam. Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas. Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, 1998, p. 310, no. 405, ill. (color), calls it "No. 21".
Bernice Rose. Rothko: A Painter's Progress, the Year 1949. Exh. cat., PaceWildenstein. New York, 2004, p. 20, fig. 10, calls it "No. 21, 1949"; notes that Rothko made this painting as a version of Matisse's "The Red Studio" (1911) as soon as the latter was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art; considers this painting probably the last of Rothko's works to which a specific influence can be assigned.
Max Hollein. Modern and Contemporary Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2019, ill. p. 94 (color).
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