Mark Rothko’s Untitled #17



2015-06-26 10:38:51

Mark Rothko’s Untitled #17 is a 1961 painting by the Latvian-born American Abstract Expressionist painter.

The painting

The work is an oil on canvas which measures 93 x 76 inches.


Rothko evolved his classic style at the end of the 1940s, creating large-scale canvases in which form and colour are one.

Although others have described these works in purely formal terms, Rothko spoke of them as “intimate and intense,” and said they were meant to be experienced at close quarters, so that the viewer gets the feeling of being “within the picture,” participating in its human “poignancy.”

Untitled #17 was painted at the end of the decade of Rothko’s classic work, when he received the major commissions for the Four Seasons Restaurant, the Holyoke Center at Harvard and the de Menil Chapel in Houston that altered the direction of his art.

Untitled #17 in the catalogue raisonné

David Anfam, author of 1998’s catalogue raisonné (the definitive analytical text), Mark Rothko The Works on Canvas, has written a text on the painting and has noted the following:

“Recently come to light after an extended period in private hands, Untitled No. 17 fits squarely among the 18 hitherto documented oils on canvas from 1961. Large, classic canvases that managed to elude my catalogue raisonné are uncommon, and most welcome. At its publication in 1998, I compared the catalogue raisonné project to a sort of homecoming, for a family of works that had been scattered around the world by time and circumstance into public, private and even forgotten places. Absent from my pages then, the rediscovery of Untitled No.17 adds another indelible presence to the great Rothko canon.”

Re-emergence on the markets

Untitled #17 remained in private hands from 1965 before re-emerging on the markets in April 2011. The then-present owner of Untitled #17 acquired the work directly from Rothko.

The painting was one of only ten paintings that have come to light since the Rothko catalogue raisonné was published in 1998.

Notable sale

In April 2011, Christie’s announced that Mark Rothko’s Untitled #17 would feature in its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on May 11 of that year, expected to realise “upwards of $20Million”.

Jonathan Laib, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Specialist, Vice President, Head of Morning Sale at the time commented:

“It is rare in one’s career for my team to handle such an extraordinary discovery, especially when the market for Rothko and classic Abstract Expressionist master works is at such an all-time high. The demand for Rothko is truly international, with strong interest from Asia, the Middle East and Russia. This picture will be the talk of the season.”

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