The Other Side of Rothko: 5 Intimate, Must-See ‘Paintings on Paper’

2023 has been the year of Mark Rothko. He is currently the subject of a landmark exhibition in Paris, which includes an impressive 115 paintings that redefines the celebrated Abstract Expressionist’s oeuvre. For anyone stateside who is experiencing FOMO, however, the smaller “Mark Rothko: Paintings on Paper” has opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It’s also a revelatory show, albeit less grandiose than the Paris survey.

Though Rothko is most often associated with majestic canvases, these more intimate paintings, which the artist regarded as finished works in their own right rather than preliminary sketches, reveal a new side to his practice. Alongside his archetypal, hazy fields of color from the 1950s and 1960s, visitors can see figurative works from the 1930s and semi-surreal experimental constructions from the 1940s. In some of these early paintings, soft swathes and unfurling pools of watercolor pigment sit flat on the surface of the construction paper, foreshadowing Rothko’s later anti-illusionistic style.

Featured image: Mark Rothko, Untitled (c. 1948). Photo: © 2023 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.

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