Mark Rothko at the Louis Vuitton Foundation



After Basquiat & Warhol, the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (the FLV) is hosting an exceptional exhibition of work by yet another American giant. It’s the first major retrospective in France of Mark ROTHKO’s prolific oeuvre since that presented at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris in 1999. Opening on 18 October 2023, the Louis Vuitton Foundation has brought together some 115 works from international museums and private collections, notably from the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) and from the artist’s family. Mark Rothko traces the artist’s entire career, from his first figurative paintings to the abstract works for which he is best-known today.


“Starting with his initial figurative paintings, this retrospective aims to cover Rothko’s entire oeuvre and to illustrate the permanence and depth of his artistic quest via a series of formal ruptures”, explains Suzanne Pagé, Artistic Director of the Louis Vuitton Foundation and Curator of the exhibition.


  • 1930: towards a new American painting

The exhibition therefore begins in the 1930s: the various paintings presented depict a tragic, solitary world, a New York stunned by the atrocities of the First World War. In the anxious social climate that reigned during these years, Rothko clearly felt a need to express the tragedy of the human condition via new subjects and a new language that eschewed classical figurative depiction.

  • 1946 – 1950: his classic period

During the 1940s, his keen interest in philosophy (notably the writings of Nietzsche) and Greek mythology gave his work an increasingly symbolic character. After experimenting with Abstract Expressionism (alongside the likes of Jackson POLLOCK, Adolph GOTTLIEB), and then Surrealism, he developed his own distinctive formal vocabulary. Indeed, hostile to the Expressionism of Action Painting, Mark Rothko (along with Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still) invented a new, meditative way of painting that critic Clement Greenberg defined as ‘colorfield painting’. In these works, Rothko expressed himself exclusively by means of fields of color applied to the canvas in flat areas with fuzzy edges. Sometimes monochrome but often composed of two or three variously colored bands – yellow, red, ocher, orange tones, but also blue and white – Rothko’s paintings appear to communicate a profound spiritual dimension.


Untitled (1950)

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1950


“I am only interested in the expression of basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy and so on – and the fact that some people are brought to tears when viewing my paintings suggests that I am successfully communicating fundamental human emotions.” Mark Rothko.


In 1958, Rothko received a commission for a set of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant designed by Philip Johnson for the Seagram Building whose construction was being directed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in New York. In the end, Rothko did not deliver the works and kept the entire series. Eleven years later, he donated nine of the paintings to the Tate Gallery. Clearly distinguished from previous works by their deep red hues, they are presented in a special room at the Tate and will be all be included in the Louis Vuitton retrospective.

  • 1960 – 1970: from shadow to light

In 1960, the Phillips Collection in Washington dedicated a permanent room to the artist, the first ‘Rothko Room’. It was designed in close collaboration with the artist and will also be recreated in the FLV exhibition. New York’s MoMA also gave Rothko a substantial solo exhibition in 1961. After the swirls of color of his classical period, the painter’s palette darkened, as evidenced by the Black and Gray series of 1969-1970, which he painted for the interior walls of the interfaith chapel in Houston, Texas. Suffering from high blood pressure, Rothko gradually lost his physical abilities and was no longer able to paint large format works. He ended his life on 25 February 1970 in his New York studio.

Untitled (Black and Gray) 1969

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Black and Gray), 1969

The Black and Gray masterpieces will be presented in the highest room of Frank Gehry’s magnificent Louis Vuitton Foundation museum alongside some of Alberto Giacometti’s superb tall statues, thereby creating an environment close to that Rothko had imagined for a UNESCO commission that never came to fruition.


Very strong demand…

Over the past decades, Mark Rothko’s paintings have fetched record prices at prestige auction sales. His iconic paintings, characterized by their vast fields of color and powerful expressiveness, have attracted growing interest among collectors and art museums due to their rarity on the market. In 20 years, only 156 of his works have been offered at auction, and the values of his works have been substantially inflated by the numerous exhibitions and retrospectives dedicated to his art. With five auction results above $70 million since 2007, Rothko has been at the pinnacle of the abstract art market for a long time.


Artist Artwork Price Date Auction house
1 Mark ROTHKO Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) $86,882,500 08/05/12 Christie’s New York
2 Kasimir MALEVICH Suprematist Composition (1916) $85,812,500 15/05/18 Christie’s New York
3 Barnett NEWMAN Black Fire I (1961) $84,165,000 13/05/14 Christie’s New York
4 Mark ROTHKO No. 10(1958) $81,925,000 13/05/15 Christie’s New York
5 Mark ROTHKO No. 7 (1951) $82,468,500 15/11/21 Sotheby’s New York
6 Mark ROTHKO No. 1 (Royal Red And Blue) (1954) $75,122,500 13/11/12 Sotheby’s New York
7 Mark ROTHKO White Center (1950) $72,840,000 15/05/07 Sotheby’s New York
8 Cy TWOMBLY Untitled (New York City)(1968) $70,530,000 11/11/15 Sotheby’s New York
9 Cy TWOMBLY Untitled (1970) $69,605,000 12/11/14 Christie’s New York
10 Fernand LÉGER Contraste de formes (1913) $70,062,500 13/11/17 Christie’s New York
Top 10 auction results for abstract works ©


In 2012, one of his paintings, Orange, Red, Yellow fetched over $87 million, setting a new record for a Contemporary artwork at that time. Among his most recent and remarkable results auctions, his painting No. 7 from 1951 sold in 2021 for $72 million during Sotheby’s dispersal of the Macklowe collection, one of the highest-value collections ever sold at auction. With an annual auction turnover of $163 million in 2022 from just 14 works sold, Mark Rothko is one of the ten most successful artists on the global art market and his artistic legacy continues to fascinate.

No. 7 (1951)

Mark Rothko, No. 7, 1951