[Figures playing handball on the beach]

1986.56.538.a
Date
Dimensions
15 1/4 x 11 3/8 in. (38.7 x 28.9 cm)
Estate/Inventory Number
O 64
Collection
National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1986.56.538.a. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko
Other Side
1986.56.538.b
Remarks
This watercolor was almost certainly painted in Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the summer of 1934 when Rothko and his wife Edith Sachar (1912–1981) vacationed there with the Averys—Milton (1885–1965), Sally, and March—and Esther and Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974). Edith remembered that “we’d meet on the beach every day and go swimming and play handball and we had a lot of good, nice, wholesome times” [Edith (Sachar) Carson, interviewed by Walter Hopps, October 19, 1976, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution]. The woman at left, her long hair streaming behind her, lunges for the red ball near her right foot (it appears that Rothko originally positioned the ball nearer her knee before minimizing its appearance). Handball was a popular pastime in the 1930s and many single-walled courts, some beachside, were built by the Works Progress Administration (fig. 1). While dynamic figures are rare in Rothko’s oeuvre, later in the decade he made a few sketches and a pair of canvases of a figure playing paddle ball (figs. 2–4) that match the energy of the handball player in this watercolor.
1. Handball courts at Jones Beach, Long Island, NY, July 28, 1936, New York City Department of Records and Information Services. [dpr_01490]
2. Mark Rothko, [Man playing paddle ball], c. 1939, graphite, 6 11/16 x 4 9/16 in., Collections of Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.
3. Mark Rothko, Untitled (figure with a racket), 1938/1939, oil and graphite on gesso board, 11 7/8 x 8 15/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, 1986.56.654. [Anfam 150]
4. Mark Rothko, Untitled (man with racket and ball), 1939, oil on gesso board, 8 15/16 x 11 7/8 in., National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, 1986.56.658. [Anfam 168]
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