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This painting comes from one of three series of canvases painted by Rothko in 1958–1959 in response to a commission for murals for the small dining room of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The Four Seasons, one of the smartest restaurants in the city, is in the Seagram Building, a celebrated classic modern skyscraper on Park Avenue designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. As he worked on the commission Rothko's conception of the scheme became more and more sombre and he abandoned the first series as being too light in mood. He then adopted a palette of black on maroon and dark red on maroon, and compositional structures of open, rectangular, window-like forms, rather than his usual arrangement of uniform rectangular patches, used for the first series. He later said 'After I had been at work for some time I realised that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo's walls in the staircase room of the Medicean Library in Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling I'm after ... ' The reference is to the motif of heavily pedimented blank stone windows set in the white walls of the ante-room of the Laurentian Library, which together with other architectural effects created there by Michelangelo, create an atmosphere noted for its oppressive, almost frightening, grandeur.
Published in: Simon Wilson, 'Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London', revised edition 1991, p.215
Mixed media on canvas
H 266.7 x W 381.2 cm
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1968