Mark Rothko: A Biography

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9780226074061: Mark Rothko: A Biography

A book of heroic dimensions, this is the first full-length biography of one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century—a man as fascinating, difficult, and compelling as the paintings he produced. Drawing on exclusive access to Mark Rothko's personal papers and over one hundred interviews with artists, patrons, and dealers, James Breslin tells the story of a life in art—the personal costs and professional triumphs, the convergence of genius and ego, the clash of culture and commerce. Breslin offers us not only an enticing look at Rothko as a person, but delivers a lush, in-depth portrait of the New York art scene of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s—the world of Abstract Expressionism, of Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, and Klein, which would influence artists for generations to come.


"In Breslin, Rothko has the ideal biographer—thorough but never tedious, a good storyteller with an ear for the spoken word, fond but not fawning, and possessed of a most rare ability to comment on non-representational art without sounding preposterous."—Robert Kiely, Boston Book Review

"Breslin impressively recreates Mark Rothko's troubled nature, his tormented life, and his disturbing canvases. . . . The artist's paintings become almost tangible within Breslin's pages, and Rothko himself emerges as an alarming physical force."—Robert Warde, Hungry Mind Review

"This remains beyond question the finest biography so far devoted to an artist of the New York School."-Arthur C. Danto, Boston Sunday Globe

"Clearly written, full of intelligent insights, and thorough."—Hayden Herrera, Art in America

"Breslin spent seven years working on this book, and he has definitely done his homework."-Nancy M. Barnes, Boston Phoenix

"He's made the tragedy of his subject's life the more poignant."—Eric Gibson, The New Criterion

"Mr. Breslin's book is, in my opinion, the best life of an American painter that has yet been written . . . a biographical classic. It is painstakingly researched, fluently written and unfailingly intelligent in tracing the tragic course of its subject's tormented character."—Hilton Kramer, New York Times Book Review, front page review

James E. B. Breslin (1936-1996) was professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry, 1945-1965 and William Carlos Williams: An American Artist.

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Review:

"I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry." Born Marcus Rothkowitz in a small Russian town, Mark Rothko immigrated to Portland, Oregon, in 1913, when he was 10 years old. "You don't know what it is to be a Jewish kid dressed in a suit that is a Dvinsk, not an American, idea of a suit traveling across America and not able to speak English," he later told fellow abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. Rothko was a weak child, an abandoned son (his father had gone to America in 1910 and died of cancer just seven months after the family was reunited), a Jew excluded from high school clubs, a Yale freshman on scholarship, and a college dropout determined to become an Artist with a capital A. James Breslin has written an exhaustive biography of the painter. He pulled together all the facts of Rothko's life and carefully examined all the strata of the artist's personality--Rothko's sensitivity, his sense of displacement, his pride and his diffidence, his combativeness, his love for his children, his hatred for Marlborough Gallery director Frank Lloyd, and his difficulties with money. The book is flawed only by Breslin's ticlike use of italics, which give the sense of the author tugging at our sleeve in an unnecessary effort to persuade: "Rothko's last and most severe renunciations were made not to remove obstacles between the observer and the idea but in a gesture of personal withdrawal." But this is a relatively minor trifle that does not unduly detract from this large--and large-spirited--book about a tormented, brilliant Artist. --Peggy Moorman

About the Author:

James E. B. Breslin (1936–96) was professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry, 1945–1965 and William Carlos Williams: An American Artist.

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