The abrupt cropping of this image of a man playing a mandolin indicates that there was more to Rothko’s composition on the full sheet (likely a standard size of 15 x 22 inches) before he cut it in half; the other half of the sheet is unlocated, but the beach scene on the reverse side of the sheet appears to be a complete composition. The beach view was almost certainly painted in Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the summer of 1934 when Rothko and Edith vacationed there with the Averys—Milton (1885–1965), Sally, and March—and Esther and Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974), and it is reasonable to date the mandolin player similarly. Edith remembered “sketch classes at night at someone’s studio, down in Gloucester” [Edith (Sachar) Carson, interviewed by Walter Hopps, October 19, 1976, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution]. This watercolor may have been made during one of those sessions. The identity of the man in this watercolor is unknown, but the mandolin may have belonged to Rothko. He and his two brothers played the instrument. Rothko occasionally used the mandolin as a prop. Gottlieb portrayed Rothko with a mandolin around the time Rothko painted this watercolor (fig. 1).
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.