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Mark Rothko

America, born Russia, 1903–1970

© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Orange and Yellow, 1956

Oil on canvas
91 x 71 inches (231.1 x 180.3 cm)
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1956

Orange and Yellow reflects Mark Rothko’s mature style, in which two or three rectangles are set within a background that surrounds them all, but divides them gently from one another. The edges of the rectangles are never distinct, avoiding an optical break and allowing viewers’ eyes to move quietly from other area to another in a contemplative way.

Rothko did not want us to think about him when looking at his paintings, so he tried to remove all evidence of the creation process. To accomplish this, he applied numerous layers of thin paint with a brush or rag to unprepared canvas, which absorbed the colors into its fabric. The many thin washes help to give his paintings a lightness and brightness, as if they glow from within.

Orange and Yellow was considered quite large in the 1950s, and Rothko asked viewers to stand close in order to be visually surrounded by the colors. His goal was for color to, in his words, “express . . . basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom. . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.”


Related Lesson Plan

Feelings in Color (For Grades 2–8)


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