To my considerable delight I’ve just discovered that there’s a Rothko show on at the Whitechapel gallery, and we can go there on Sunday – the last day of the show. I don’t know how I missed knowing it was on when it opened last September, but I am very glad I’ll get in under the wire at the last possible chance.

There’s just a single work of art in the ‘Rothko in Britain’ exhibition. Since I think Rothko is the god of modern art I’d travel a lot further than Whitechapel for just one of his paintings, but in fact this one has been lent by the Tate so I’ve probably seen it before: Light Red Over Black, painted in 1957. There is also a sequence of photos of the visitors to Rothko’s first solo exhibition in Britain (1961, also at the Whitechapel), photos of Rothko during his visit to Britain in 1959, and a page or two from some notes taken in conversation with him then, including this famous quote:

“You think my paintings are calm, like windows in some cathedral?” Rothko supposedly said. “You should look again. I’m the most violent of all the American painters. Behind those colours there hides the final cataclysm.”

A review of the exhibition by Alistair Sooke says, “Renaissance man had altarpieces; we get the shimmering, hazy half-promises of Rothko.” But the thing is, we get both at once with Rothko – or we do if we visit the Rothko Chapel in Houston: now there’s a fine example of ‘worth the journey’. And Alex Danchev, in a review of a Cezanne exhibition, made a telling distinction about modern artists: between those who say, “look at me” and those who say, “here it is”. Rothko’s very firmly in the latter group, I believe, and saying something like, “here it is, if you can bear it.”

3 Responses to “Rothko!”

  1. Frances Thomas Says:

    I didn’t know about this either. Thanks for telling me

  2. T. Clear Says:


    There’s a Rothko show going on about three hours from me, in Portland, Oregon (USA), where he spent his youth. I need to plan a trip!

  3. admin Says:

    A perfect example of a Michelin ‘worth the journey’ destination.

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