Rothko’s Late Paintings

Markrothko140x84 Laura Cumming in The Guardian:

At their best, the late paintings can give a pure optical hit. There is a black on black work where the graduations of tone are so subtle that the eye, adjusting to the darkness, sees it deepen and fade inexplicably. But that painting, No 1, is scaled to the proportions of the human body, like the best of the earlier work. The bigger Rothko gets – and some of the murals are as big as billboards and pitched as high on the wall – the more diluted their strength.

People often speak of the turbulent emotion of the late works, associating their darkness with Rothko’s future suicide. But how can they possibly tell? Whatever emotion the paintings may have absorbed from his anguished inner life is subsumed in their gloomy permutations, one after another, narrow to wide, darker to lighter, vivid to blunt, just going through the weary motions.

Strength sapped, inspiration drained: that is the feeling that comes off the walls. Even in the paint itself, the cracks are beginning to show. Rothko drives on and on, prolific to the end, but compared to the riches of the previous decade, when the paintings could still sing, the interpenetration of colours remained mysterious, the stained and glazed and scumbled surfaces could still entrance the eye, these works are dispiritingly ordinary.