26 April – 3 June 2023
Anita Rogers Gallery is thrilled to present Mark Rothko and William Scott: Continuing the Dialogue, an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by two twentieth-century masters, offering new insight into their relationship and mutual admiration, influence, and respect. Large-scale works on canvas will be complemented by preparatory drawings, as well as correspondence between the two artists. Mark Rothko (1903-1970), one of the most prominent of the American abstract painters, and William Scott CBE, RA (1913-1989), a leader in the Modernist movement in the UK, met in 1953 and consequently grew close through letters and visits. By including the artists’ works and words together, the gallery hopes to share the story of this friendship with a wider public.
Rothko and Scott first met through Martha Jackson in New York in 1953 and kept in contact through letters, sharing personal moments from their lives, as well as details on their artistic endeavours and topics then weighing on their minds. Both painters had roots in figurative painting and had moved into abstraction by the time they met, although Scott would return to and reference figuration throughout his long career. In the summer of 1959, the Rothko family stayed with the Scotts at their cottage in Somerset and here they discussed concerns over the issues of placing art in public places, as well as their mutual experiences as immigrants – Rothko, as a boy, had moved to the US from Latvia; Scott, after winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, had moved to England from Ireland.
It was also at the time of this meeting that both artists had embarked on commissions for murals: Scott’s was for the Altnagelvin Hospital in Ireland, the first National Health Service hospital ever to be built, and Rothko’s was a series of paintings for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The luxury restaurant, set within Mies van der Rohe’s celebrated Seagram Building, was designed by Philip Johnson and catered to celebrities and the very wealthy.
The commissions presented new challenges, both physically, and artistically. Both were very different kinds of projects, for different purposes and different audiences, and this posed a great contradiction for Rothko who allegedly said, “I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room.” The gallery will display preliminary paintings and drawings for both murals, offering a glimpse into their working processes.
For Scott, whose finished mural would measure 108” x 540”, tackling a piece on this scale was a monumental task. However, he was emboldened by his exposure to Rothko, as well as to the other American abstract expressionist painters whose work he had first discovered in 1953. While these influences are certainly evident post-1953, they also convinced Scott that his origins were in Europe, in Matisse and Bonnard. He then very much made the commission his own through references to ancient Irish art, architecture, and symbolism.
Meanwhile, Rothko, accustomed to working on a larger scale, was faced with creating a site-specific project for the first time. Rothko struggled with the placement of the series in the luxury restaurant from the beginning and shortly after his return from Europe and following his conversation with Scott, Rothko finally withdrew from the contract, sharing the news with Scott in a letter dated 14 December 1959, on view in the exhibition. While Rothko revealed no hesitations whatsoever about the decision, he lamented to Scott that “there really is no real place for them” [the murals]. The paintings were offered to the Tate Gallery but initially turned down; afterwards, the paintings spent a handful of years in the artist’s studio. Scott was instrumental in making the work of Rothko known to other artists in the UK, specifically Patrick Heron, and in 1970, the Tate accepted the paintings into the collection, including the conditions for display set out by Rothko. Now the Seagram murals have a celebrated home in the Tate Modern in London, where they are on view to this day.
The gallery will host an opening reception on Wednesday, 26 April, 6-8pm, as well as a gallery talk with Christopher Rothko, Kate Rothko Prizel, and James Scott on Tuesday, 9 May, moderated by gallery owner Anita Rogers. Register for the talk here. In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery will publish a full-colour catalogue featuring an essay by Dr David Anfam, art historian and author of the catalogue raisonné Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, as well as writer and curator of Abstract Expressionism (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2016-17) – the largest survey of its kind ever held in Europe.
In 2019, the gallery hosted a major solo exhibition of 1950’s – 1980’s paintings and drawings by William Scott. This will be the gallery’s first exhibition including works by Mark Rothko.
ANITA ROGERS GALLERY
New York Contemporary Art
494 Greenwich Street
Tel: +1 347 604 2346