A Chronology of Mark Rothko's Career


This chronology was originally published as part of a catalogue produced by Pace Publishing on the occasion of Mark Rothko 1968: Clearing Away at Pace Gallery in London.


In April, Mark Rothko is commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil to paint a suite of murals for a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas. Rothko dedicates the following three years to these large-scale paintings, filling the octagonal space he designed to create a total environment.

Rothko produces his Black-Form series, a suite of seventeen paintings, a group of which he titles No. 1 to No. 8—perhaps
a reference to the forthcoming chapel. Contrary to his color-field compositions in the 1950s, these new paintings initially appear entirely black, but close looking reveals a central form made up of multiple gradations of tone and texture.

In early fall, Rothko moves into a new studio at 157 East 69th Street in New York. The nineteenth-century carriage house has a large central skylight cupola. With the assistance of fellow painter William Scharf, Rothko erects a system of pulleys that allows him to control the light and reposition the murals on temporary walls that match the dimensions of the chapel in Houston.


Rothko dedicates the entire year to working on the paintings for the chapel commission.

Rothko begins conversations with Norman Reid, director of the Tate Gallery in London, regarding gifting some of the paintings from his 1961 touring exhibition, which had traveled to the Whitechapel Gallery, London. Reid proposes dedicating a room to Rothko’s painting.

Rothko is included in two significant exhibitions that cement the Abstract Expressionist movement: 1943–1953: The Decisive Years at the ICA Philadelphia, January 14–March 1, and New York School: The First Generation, Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 16–August 1.


In June, Rothko travels with his family to Europe, visiting Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and London. He visits several significant churches and monuments, including the Pantheon in Rome; Giotto’s frescoes in Assisi, Perugia; Fra Angelico’s frescoes in San Marco, Florence; and Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.


Rothko is included in the group exhibition Six Painters: Mondrian, Guston, Kline, De Kooning, Pollock, Rothko at the University of St. Thomas, Art Department, Houston, Texas, February 23–April 2.

In April, Rothko completes the fourteen paintings (and four alternates) for the chapel.

Rothko spends the summer teaching at the University of California, Berkeley. He feels increasingly isolated during this time and returns to New York dispirited.
Throughout 1967 and into early 1968, Rothko creates a small number of his classic sectional canvases.


On April 20, Rothko suffers a nearly fatal aortal aneurism and is hospitalized for three weeks. The doctor advises ceasing all painting, which Rothko rejects. They settle on a compromise of reducing the scale of his painting practice and to working exclusively on paper.

On May 28, Rothko is elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Rothko works prolifically on a new body of small-scale paintings on paper, adopting acrylic paint for the first time. He finds a renewed enthusiasm for color and form.
In late November, Rothko begins cataloguing all the paintings in his studio.


In January, Rothko separates from his wife Mell and moves into his studio.

In the spring, Rothko returns to painting on canvas, working on a new body of large paintings in a palette of black, brown, and gray.

On June 9, Rothko is awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Yale University.

Rothko’s ill health continues, and he is diagnosed with bilateral emphysema on September 30.

In November, Norman Reid visits Rothko in his studio. Together they choose which Seagram murals are to be gifted to the Tate Gallery, working on a scale model to determine how they should be hung. In total, Rothko donates nine paintings from his Seagram mural series.


On February 25, Rothko dies in his studio. The same day, Rothko’s Seagram murals arrive in London at the Tate Gallery.

One month later, The Museum of Modern Art opens a retrospective tribute to the late artist, Mark Rothko 1903–1970, which runs from March 26 to May 31.


On February 26, the recently completed Rothko Chapel is consecrated.

  • Essays — A Chronology of Mark Rothko's Career: 1964-71, Oct 18, 2023