12 Famous Paintings by Mark Rothko


Mark Rothko, an American of Jewish and Russian heritage, is a famous painter well known for his works of abstraction and particularly for the fusion of colors throughout his work.

A historic building in Houston, Texas, known as the Rothko Chapel, has fourteen of his paintings on display.  Perhaps one of the more remarkable milestones of his career, Rothko was commissioned to paint a mural at the Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue.

However, he is famously known for discontinuing the project on account of his refusal to have his art in the presence of the affluent classes of people.

Today, all of us have the chance to see and appreciate a number of famous Rothko paintings, so here are twelve such works for your information.

1.Black on Maroon

Black on Maroon

Part of his canvas series, Black on Maroon is one of the abstractions based on the Washington Color School movement, completed by Rothko during 1958-1959.

The painting was displayed as a mural at the Four Seasons restaurant as an unframed rectangular canvas. The deep maroon base is overlayed by the black, creating a unique sense of depth, blending deep wine with mauve colors together.

The maroon colors themselves are surrounded by the black in a window-like formation, adding to this effect.  

2.Untitled (Black on Grey)

Black and Silver Famous Painting By Mark Rothko

This abstract art piece, Untitled (Black on Grey), is another of Rothko’s artistic masterpieces.

According to the artist himself, the painting is representative of the theme of death.

Completed in 1970 and painted using acrylic on his canvas, this abstract work sees Rothko painting rectangles on top of one another, empty and void of any substance, which suggests an element of uncertainty in the presentation of the work.

3.No. 61 (Rust and Blue)

Rust and Blue

As with Black on Maroon, No. 61 (Rust and Blue) stems from the Washington Color School movement, where the variety of colorful layers are seen as a tool for the enrichment of the artwork.

Painted in 1953 using oil on canvas, Rothko’s technique here may seem simplistic but when examined more closely, the varying effects caused the work to be luminous.

The technique employed by Rothko appears to show the colors running upwards across the surface of the painting, this being due to the artist’s tendency to invert his work following its completion.

4.No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)

No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) Famous Painting By Mark Rothko

Completed in 1954, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) makes use of vibrantly bright colors such as oranges and reds, perfectly counterbalanced by the deep blues at the base of the painting.

The design of the work gives those viewing it the feeling that it is being illuminated, although this is not the case. 

This abstract work also follows the Washington Color School movement, and Rothko’s ability to deal with and present abstract expressionism with so much ambiguity is on display here also. £47.2 million pounds is the value this piece was sold for during an auction in 2012.

5.Blue and Grey

blue and grey

Blue and Grey, oil on canvas painting developed in 1962, makes use of the Color Field movement in its design choices.

Rothko, in many of his artworks, is considered to have a practice where he will often fill an entire canvas with squares of rich colors, usually colors which the artist himself considered to be beautiful.

Once denying being an artist in the field of abstract expressionism, much of his work portrays a vast array of human emotion. Especially in this painting, Rothko displays the deep human emotions of isolation, doom, and desolation perfectly, a common trait in much of his work. 

6.Orange, Red, and Yellow

Orange, Red, and Yellow By Mark Rothko

One of Rothko’s abstract expressions, this acrylic on canvas painting aptly titled Orange, Red, and Yellow is an eye-catching sight.

Equally mind-blowing, the painting was sold for $70 million dollars during an auction in 2012. According to some viewers, this painting happens to be one of the most striking, the yellow and orange rectangles on the red background which although simplistic, easily captures your attention.

Some have likened the color palette to that of the glowing sunset or brightly colored ice cream. Rothko achieved this by applying many thin layers of paint and then spread it unequally using his brush. 

7.White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose)

White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose)

White Center was painted in 1950 and Rothko made use of the Washing Color School and Color Field movements in his stylistic choices.

This oil on canvas painting is one of the most expensive pieces of work sold at $72.84 million dollars at an auction to the Qatar Royal family.

Rothko blends the yellow, pink, and lavender colors into a brilliant combination on a rose-red background, which emanates a sense of brightness, joy, and warmth for all who view it.

8.Blue, Green, and Brown

Blue Green Red

Blue, Green, and Brown are some of Rothko’s abstract expressionist paintings. Completed in 1952, this artwork employs rectangular dark greens and browns on a blue background.

This oil on canvas painting boasts a complex use of its color palette, creating a vivid, unique and realistic image for the viewer to enjoy.

9.Green and Tangerine on Red

Green and Tangerine on Red By Mark Rothko

Green and Tangerine on Red draw on a variety of artistic styles for its design, namely that of abstraction, Color Field, and the Washington Color School movements.

Completed in 1956, this oil on canvas piece of work makes use of bright tangerine colors contrasted with dark green on a background of red.

Some art critics suggest that the brightness of the tangerine color represents the happiness of human life, while the green part of the artwork represents the worry and the anguish that threatens us all.

10.Untitled (Green Divided by Blue)

Untitled (Green Divided by Blue)

This painting is one of Rothko’s abstract expressions and was made by the artist in 1968.

Developed using oil on canvas, deep green and blue were used on a background of white to paint a simplistic but powerful piece.

The two green squares divided through the middle by a blue rectangle make this yet another of Rothko’s enduring masterpieces.

11.No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)

No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red) By Mark Rothko

This abstract work by Rothko, completed in 1951 makes use of an uneven distribution of violet and green across the red background of the canvas.

The artist made use of oil on canvas, and his use of these oil colors is also hazy, contributing to a sense of ambiguity when the painting is viewed. In 2014, this painting was purchased for €140 million euros.

12.Entrance to Subway

Entrance to Subway By Mark Rothko

Possibly the least ambiguous entry on the list, Entrance to Subway is a part of expressionism and historical painting stylistic movements.

Painted in 1938, this scene is the result of the Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, Cubism, and Abstract Art exhibitions Rothko attended. Rothko is most interested here in the commuters waiting on the platforms, and his artwork reflects their form as being tall and stick-like.

Of particular interest is the uniqueness of the subway, because instead of the busyness of a crowd that would normally dominate it, the figures are alone, and the subway is empty.


Rothko certainly produced many valuable artworks in his time on earth, and he produced many other noteworthy abstractions.

As with his works listed above, some of his other works such as Earth and Green, Four Darks in Red, and Multiform to name a few also contained a deep sense of ambiguity and a lot of depth in their design.

The impressiveness and the scale of his work and these many famous Rothko paintings will no doubt be continued to be appreciated by countless viewers for many years to come. 

Also, check out What Is Abstract Expressionism? – Expression and Vitality Over Perfection  

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