The subject of this watercolor—two seemingly nude bathers—suggests that it may have been painted during or inspired by Rothko’s 1934 summer in Gloucester, Massachusetts, when he 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). The abrupt cropping of the figures indicates that Rothko’s composition continued onto the full sheet (likely 22 x 30 inches, a standard size) before he cut it in half and painted [Couple in bed] on the reverse side; the other half of the sheet has not been found. Rothko’s use of a nonmimetic palette for the figures recalls canvases he painted around this time of a reclining blue-green nude (fig. 1) and a man with a green face (fig. 2); Rothko may have been prompted by Avery’s burgeoning exploration of vivid color. The posture and modeling of Rothko’s figures also recall Blue Nude by Henri Matisse (1869–1954) (fig. 3), which Rothko could have seen in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, Henri Matisse, which was on view November 3–December 6, 1931.
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.