Gyral Sketch Book 3

1937 – c. 1949
Collections of Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko
The paperboard front cover of this seventeen-hole spiral-bound sketchbook bears a red paper label embossed with “GYRAL Sketch Book” and a decorative border, both in silver. 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].

This sketchbook contains 54 pages (27 sheets). Of these pages, 10 include watercolors, 3 bear ink drawings, 1 is a crayon drawing, 7 are marked by offset smudges of paint from the facing page, and 33 are blank. Only 8 of the sketchbook pages are numbered. The inside covers are almost uniformly coated in what appears to be blue-green paint and carry traces of stray paint splatters of various colors.

The verso of the sketchbook’s first page has been annotated with the inscription “P98” in graphite in an unknown hand. Subsequent versos are numbered consecutively through P105, although several pages that have drawings on them are skipped in the sequence of this annotation. The final annotation, “P105,” appears about halfway through the sketchbook. The origin and significance of these annotations are unknown.

The majority of the drawings in the sketchbook appear to belong to two distinct campaigns. Based on their relationships to canvases, nine watercolors on the first fifteen pages of the sketchbook would seem to date from 1941/1942. With the exception of one table-top still life, their subject matter fits with the classic-mythical phase of Rothko’s production and features anatomical fragments and quasi-surrealistic combinations of body parts, landscapes, and architectural elements. The last page of the sketchbook is figurative and utilizes a similar palette to the opening pages; it likely dates from roughly the same period. Perhaps Rothko worked simultaneously from the front and back of the book, as he seems to have done in other sketchbooks. A drawing in red pencil that appears to predate the watercolors follows the watercolors at the front of the book, suggesting that Rothko may have begun working in the middle of the sketchbook. Following the red-pencil drawing are three ink drawings that appear to date from much later in the decade, possibly around 1949. These drawings rehearse the abstract compositions and energies of the so-called multiforms that preceded Rothko’s signature abstract format. After a hiatus of some years Rothko may have rediscovered this sketchbook and resumed work on the first blank page he encountered at the front of the book.

Only pages with drawings have individual catalog entries in this online resource. All pages can be viewed by clicking the image of the sketchbook cover above.