The paperboard front cover of this fourteen-hole spiral-bound sketchbook bears a red paper label embossed with “GYRAL Sketch Book” and a decorative border, both in silver. The inside front cover is annotated with numerous sums, probably budgetary in nature. The back cover has been torn but appears to have been similarly annotated. Morris Calden, a painter who rented a room from Rothko and his wife Edith between 1935 and 1940, recalled that Rothko purchased Gyral pads from Woolworth’s five-and-dime store for five cents [Morris Calden interviewed by Bonnie Clearwater and Barbara Shickler, June 30, 1982, Mark Rothko Foundation Papers, transcript, National Gallery of Art]. The sketchbook contains 56 pages (28 sheets), one of which has become detached. Rothko drew on 54 pages, leaving just one page blank and another with an incidental pen stroke.
The sketchbook’s 28 sheets have been numbered in graphite at the upper right of each recto. It is believed that these inscribed numerals predate the sketchbook’s entry into the National Gallery of Art’s collection. All pages can be viewed by clicking the image of the sketchbook cover above.
Drawings in the sketchbook depict a range of subjects, executed in graphite, pen and ink, or water-based paint, and with varying degrees of finish. Rothko appears to have used this sketchbook both indoors to record domestic vignettes, and outdoors to jot rapid sketches of street scenes and figures, most likely on subway trains or platforms. Clear relationships exist between several drawings and paintings on canvas and board dated by David Anfam between 1937 and 1939, indicating the period during which Rothko used this sketchbook.
Mark Rothko: Works on Paper will ultimately document approximately 2,600 works from public and private collections worldwide. Cataloging is ongoing, and works and information will be added to the site during the coming years.