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]
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.