During the summer of 1933 Rothko and Edith Sachar (1912–1981), who married in November 1932, hitchhiked from New York to Portland, Oregon, to visit Rothko’s mother [Maurice Roth, oral history interview, September 15, 1984, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC]. This watercolor was likely made at that time. It is a view of the Willamette River as it passes through downtown Portland, including urban and industrial buildings and several bridges: from the foreground, the Hawthorne (with its telltale vertical lift trusses), Morrison, and Burnside are identifiable (fig. 1). Kraft tape and adhesive residue on the sheet indicate that the work was overmatted at some point, possibly for exhibition during Rothko’s lifetime. It is possible that it was included in a summer 1933 exhibition at the Museum of Art in Portland. It matches a critic’s description of works in the show: “The water colors are chiefly landscapes and studies of forests in which the artist has sought to retain the effect of complexity one finds in the out-of-doors and to show its ultimate order and beauty. A hint of his admiration for Cézanne is in these water colors. They are carefully thought out and in no way theatrical or dramatic” [Catherine Jones, “Noted One-Man Show Artist One-Time Portland Resident,” Sunday Oregonian, July 30, 1933, 5]. The work might also have been included in Rothko’s first solo show in New York, at Contemporary Arts in November 1933, as Flying Bridges. The work is signed twice. Rothko’s given name, Marcus Rothkowitz, appears in abbreviated form at the lower right and was presumably inscribed when the work was executed; the signature “Mark Rothko” at lower left must have been added after 1940, when the artist started using a truncated version of his given name. Graphite carets around the perimeter of the composition hint that Rothko may have considered rematting the work, possibly when he added the later signature; there is, however, no evidence of light exposure corresponding with a window mat in the indicated location. The number assigned during Rothko’s inventory of 1968/1969 erroneously signifies a creation date of 1944.
1. View of the Willamette River and downtown core looking north. City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2004-001.1007.
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.