In January 1925 Rothko enrolled in a life-drawing class at the Art Students League of New York taught by George B. Bridgman (1865–1943). The broken lines and structural rigidity of the anatomy in this and two closely related drawings (see Related Works on Paper) call to mind Bridgman’s advocacy of a geometric undergirding to his anatomies, which he likened to “mouldings used in architecture” [George B. Bridgman, Bridgman’s Life Drawing, 3rd ed. (New York, 1928), 81]. On a page devoted to measurements of body masses, Bridgman provides an example of a female figure in contrapposto that is recalled in the present work (fig. 1). Rothko’s rendering, furthermore, of the geometries of the pelvis, hips, stomach, rib cage, and thorax echoes Bridgman’s analysis of underlying structure in his illustration of the abdominal arch (fig. 2). A telling detail is the attention Rothko pays to the musculature of the upper chest. As Bridgman notes, the abdominal arch’s “profile shows the lines of the thorax cone diverging downward” [Bridgman’s Life Drawing, 136]. Bridgman illustrates this key point in the male and female figures on page 138 by a concave line at the top of the sternum (see fig. 2). A similar arc appears in Rothko’s drawing, demarcating the swell of the upper chest. It is feasible to imagine Rothko doing this drawing as an exercise in Bridgman’s life drawing class. A pair of heads drawn by Rothko (presumably) on the verso of a letter from his friend Gordon Soule dated March 10, 1925 (fig. 3), shares the agitated outline and dramatic shading of this drawing, supporting the dating of this drawing to 1925.
1. Illustration accompanying section on "How to Measure," from Bridgman's Life Drawing, 89.
2. "Abdominal Arch," from Bridgman's Life Drawing, 138-139.
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.