Simon Schama’s Power of Art – Rothko, part 4 of 7

To achieve the effect of light emanating from the very core of his paintings, Rothko began to stain pigments into his canvas by applying numerous thin layers of color one over the other, often allowing portions of these layers to appear through the top coat of paint. This enabled him to re-create, in a contemporary manner, the resonant light of Rembrandt, whom he very much admired. Rothko could also make color statements rivaling those of Henri Matisse, arguably the single greatest influence on his work of this period. Like Matisse, Rothko often enhanced one intense color by placing it next to another equally brilliant, as in Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red), luminous touches of white paint surround the central rectangles of violet, orange and yellow; the painting reveals one of Rothko’s greatest accomplishments: his ability to contain a vast array of colors of differing hues in differing proportions on the same plane. Although the violet form is indeed the largest of the group and dominates the yellow and orange, it is held in check by two vertical red bars at either side and by a narrow band of black adjacent to its bottom edge. In addition, the soft yellow and white field surrounding the central forms anchors the floating rectangles to the canvas support.