Rothko in Britain: a timeline



A new show at the Whitechapel Gallery celebrates a landmark exhibition which would seal a special bond between the American painter Mark Rothko and his British contemporaries.


• Rothko sailed to Britain – he never flew – for a holiday with his wife and daughter Kate. It was his third time in Europe.

• He stayed with his close friend and painter William Scott – whom he had met in New York in 1953 – and his family in their cottage in Somerset.

• At lunch with British abstract painters Peter Lanyon and Terry Frost, Rothko expressed his frustration with his work being misunderstood. He said: “You think my paintings are calm, like windows in some cathedral? You should look again. I’m the most violent of all the American painters. Behind those colours there hides the final cataclysm.”


• In 1961 Rothko held his first solo show in Britain at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, curated by the renowned Bryan Robertson. It was universally acclaimed.

• The painter John Hoyland later said of Rothko’s exhibition: “We didn’t understand it … how to analyse it.” Art critics universally praised the artist’s revolutionary exhibition.

• The New Statesman art critic David Sylvester wrote, “Faced with Rothko’s paintings at Whitechapel, one feels oneself unbearably hemmed-in by forces buffeting one’s every nerve.”

• Alan Bowness, the future director of the Tate, found the American “immediately sympathetic to the English taste.” There is even an account of a Muslim man who came into the exhibition with his carpet so that he could pray in front of the paintings.


• On February 25 1970 Rothko’s Seagram Murals – the Seagram beverage company had commissioned him to create murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram building in New York – arrived in London for display at the Tate Gallery on the very day of his suicide. His close ties with the UK had no doubt stayed with him emotionally until the very end of his life.

Rothko in Britain runs at Whitechapel Gallery until February 26 2012

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