The Last Painting Created By Mark Rothko Before His Death

Mark Rothko was one of the most important painters that ever lived in the 20th century. But like many great painters, he died in a tragic matter by suicide in 1970.

His final painting, a bright red painting called Untitled, 1970 that many feel symbolizes blood, particularly his blood as he died from an overdose and slashing his wrists; Mark Rothko was 66 years old and left no suicide note. We know that before his death, he also painted a black and grey series that many have felt was his painted suicide note.

Untitled 1970, By Mark Rothko – His Last Painting

Untitled 1970, By Mark Rothko

The final painting by Mark Rothko is titled “Untitled 1970.” Though this painting is very similar to many other paintings, there are also some differences.

One of the first things you will notice about this iconic painting is that the painting is almost all red with some white. Even though it has his trademark rectangles, the painting is just one color, red.

Many feel this painting was painted red and a different color red from many of his other paintings, which have more subdued colors and are not as bright a red as the red used in Untitled 1970/ We do not know for sure – still, many feel it was Mark Rotho symbolizing blood – in particular his blood.

Mark Rothko’s Suicide – 25 February 1970

In February 1970, on a cold winter morning, the body of Mark Rothko was found in his Manhattan studio. He had overdosed on barbiturates and cut an artery on his right arm with a razor blade.

He was found in a pool of blood six feet by eight feet wide, wearing longjohns and thick black socks. He left no note; he was only 66 years old.

No one knows why he committed suicide. Even his children do not know. In speaking to the Guardian, his daughter Kate Rothko Prizel said this about her father’s death:

‘”No one would deny that my father was very depressed towards the end of his life. I used to be very engrossed with that idea, too. There was a terrible tendency for me to see the paintings darkening, becoming less accessible emotionally, more hard-edged. I had a hard time separating them from his depression. But then I saw an exhibition at the Menil Collection in Houston, work that followed his completion of the paintings for the Rothko Chapel [commissioned by Dominique and Jean de Menil in the mid-1960s]. I hadn’t been familiar with those works. It was a period when I wasn’t in the studio a lot, and my father didn’t have any at home. It was fascinating to see how those works had grown out of the chapel, and then how they led to the black and greys. That was the beginning of a whole new way of seeing for me.”

Kate Rothko Prizel

Mark Rothko left no will, and his estate and paintings ended in a lengthy legal battle that eventually, his daughter Kate who was 19 years old when he died, and son Christopher was six years old, won; his paintings and estate ended up in a lengthy legal battle for over ten years.

Shortly before his death Rothko and his financial advisor Bernard Reis had created a foundation to fund research and education; the foundation was to receive the bulk of Rothko’s estate.

But upon Rothko’s death, Reis sold the paintings to the Marlborough Gallery at a much-reduced price; Bernard Reis split the profits with the Marlborough gallery owners.

Just six months after his untimely death, his second wife and mother of his two children also died. His daughter, then 19 years old, started the legal proceedings to get back her father’s estate.

When Mark Rothko died, there were still 798 paintings that were not sold, and even in the 1970s, dollars were estimated to be valued in the millions. His children and what should have been his rightful heirs eventually won the case and got control of his estate, but not before many of his paintings were sold.

In 1968 Mark Rothko suffered an aortic aneurysm; during his recovery, he was limited in how he could paint. He started to paint some of the black-on-grey series. We are unsure if this is a prelude to his death, but the paintings are more depressive than his previous work.

Black On Grays Paintings – By Mark Rothko (Untitled, 1970)

Black On Grays (Untitled, (1970) By Mark Rothko

Many feel that Mark Rothko’s painting series known as black on grays was his kind of suicide note. The work is black and almost oppressive compared to many of his earlier paintings.

There is soberness about these paintings that you can see when compared to many of his other paintings, which have a brighter feel.

The paintings are black rectangles and gray rectangles. There’s a buildup of thin translucent layers of shaded black; the effect is strangely ambiguous.

Mark Rothko was known to say that the Black and Grey paintings were about death. He painted them as lonely and empty images.; one of his most famous ones is the Untitled 1970 of the Black and Grey series.

The black and grey series was not his final painting, as his final painting is also Untitled 1970, but with the red blood color, yet the black and gray painting shows a sense of doom and death.

The black and grey paintings were a prelude to Mark Rothko’s death. The English Newspaper The Guardian wrote this about their conversations with his daughter Kate Rothko Prizel and her father’s later work:

“She (Kate) would like people to see the late work as just that – late work – and to relish it for its own sake, the way we might the distinctive late bloom of any other artist, rather than regard it as a symptom of the dark clouds overhead. ‘Even I have to step back from the biography at times,’ she says. ‘From my father as I knew him. Because, sometimes, that leads to misinterpretation.’

For me, the late paintings stand, as much as anything, as a corrective to the earlier work, with its warming yellows and pinks. They remind you that what Rothko most feared and disdained – the idea that his work was regarded as decorative – is too narrow, or at least too easy, a way of seeing him.”

The Guardian

Nobody knows whether or not his last painting, Untitled 1970 with its bright red colors, was signifying blood and was a prelude to his eventual suicide. We also do not know if the black and gray was a prelude to the depression he was having and if it was his painted suicide note to let us all know how much he was suffering.

Even his family is not sure of these facts because he left no note to tell us precisely what he was thinking.

We know that he was and continues to be one of the most valuable and essential artists that ever lived in the 20th century. Even today, his paintings continue to fetch record prices at auctions worldwide.

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By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Why Paintings Like Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green, & Red) Are Expensive.

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By clicking here, you can discover more by reading What Makes Mark Rothko’s Paintings So Valuable?.

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By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Why Are Mark Rothko’s Paintings Considered Special?.

Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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The Last Painting Created By Mark Rothko Before His Death