A meeting and a personal tragedy set him on the road to clarity. In 1943 Rothko visited Clyfford Still in California. The art of Still is a confrontation of forces represented by abstract fields of colors with edges shredded by violence.
Rothko's mother died in October 1948 after a long illness. The artist expresses his deep grief by drawing empty horizontal rectangles in a vertical column. What could have been a simple alignment of graves becomes a new expression of forces when he fills these geometric figures with different monochromatic colors.
In 1949 Mark Rothko explores this new language and adds a perfectionist search for luminosity. Twelve works are selected for an exhibition to be held in January 1950 at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. They will be numbered from 1 to 12 in the sequence chosen by the artist for the hanging. Later Rothko will number his opus in a similar way by starting again with a No. 1 in each new year.
On March 7 in London, Christie's sells as lot 11 No. 1 (1949), oil on canvas 199 x 98 cm.
The rectangles are bordered by thick lines in another colors. The upper lemon-yellow element first appeals the gaze by its brightness. The central element offers an internal structure, like the labyrinth of one of those mythical monsters with which Rothko once looked for his inspiration. No. 1 is suggesting the stage of a theater prepared to exacerbate the passions between two antagonistic camps characterized by opposite colors.
SOLD for £ 10.7M including premium