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An abstract painting in red, black, blue and white.

The painting is mostly covered in lightly applied white and off-white paint. The white paint is amorphous with patches of black, blue and dark red appearing in areas. The red dominates the right side and the upper left corner of the work as well as areas in the center right half. The black appears at the top, in lower left quarter and along the top edge and lower left edge. One large blue area is in the lower left with light patches in the center right.

Gallery Text

After having focused his artistic practice on rendering semi-abstract, mythical figures during the early to mid-1940s, in the second half of the decade Rothko began to explore pure abstraction in a group of works he called “multiforms.” Neither recognizable imagery nor compositional perspective defines the space of this painting. The cream, white, and gray forms that fill the canvas, shrouding and surrounding sections of black, brown, and blue, appear to “whitewash” any legible figure or composition beneath. As one writer stated in his 1949 review of Rothko’s paintings from this time, his art did “not imitate anything in the world.” Rothko later described these works as a transitional phase in the process of developing his iconic format of two or more tiered, richly colored rectangles. This painting provides an important perspective on Rothko’s deliberate choices regarding pigment tone and viscosity, space, and compositional structure as he developed his abstract language.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Mark Rothko, American (Dvinsk, Russia 1903 - 1970 New York, NY)
Other Titles
Alternate Title: 1947
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
sight: 106.1 x 93.4 cm (41 3/4 x 36 3/4 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., New York, New York, gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1986.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
© Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Eliminating the Obstacles between the Painter and the Observer: the Mark Rothko Foundation, 1976-198, Mark Rothko Foundation (New York, NY, 1986?)
  • Harry Cooper, Mark Rothko: Uit de Collectie van de National Gallery of Art, Washington, exh. cat., Gemeentemuseum (The Hague, 2014), pp. 68-69, fig. 1, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

  • The Persistence of Memory: Continuity and Change in American Cultures, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/29/1995 - 05/13/2001
  • Modern Art at Harvard, Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo, 07/31/1999 - 09/26/1999; Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Kagawa, 10/09/1999 - 11/14/1999; Matsuzakaya Art Museum, Nagoya, 12/02/1999 - 12/27/1999; Oita City Museum, Oita, 01/06/2000 - 02/06/2000; Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki, Ibaraki, 02/11/2000 - 03/26/2000
  • HAA 1 Survey Course: Survey of World Art: Modern Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/23/2005 - 07/31/2005
  • 32Q: 1200 Mid-Century Abstraction I (Painterly Abstraction), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/04/2015 - 06/02/2021

Verification Level

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