This watercolor of two women in bathing suits standing on the beach was most likely 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). The Rothkos arrived before the Gottliebs and rented the house on Calder Street that the Gottliebs had wanted [postcard, Adolph Gottlieb to Paul Bodin from 5 Calder St. / E. Gloucester / MA, July 6, 1934, The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation]. 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”; in the evenings, she said, they would talk about painting, or “have sketch classes at night at someone’s studio, down in Gloucester, down on the dock there” [Edith (Sachar) Carson, interviewed by Walter Hopps, October 19, 1976, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC]. Gottlieb recalled that he and Avery would “go out and make sketches of Gloucester Harbor or people on the beach . . . and then go home and paint them” [Miriam Roberts, Adolph Gottlieb (Omaha, NE, 1980), 8].
The current work appears to be based on a sketch quite possibly made on the beach (see Related Works on Paper). The high arched horizon in this work recalls a roughly contemporaneous painting by Avery of sunbathers at Coney Island (fig. 1). Signed and once overmatted (evidence of light exposure around the edge of the sheet suggests as much), this work may have been exhibited in Rothko’s lifetime, possibly in The Eighth Biennial Exhibition of Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings by American and Foreign Artists at the Brooklyn Museum in February 1935, which included works titled The Bathers and On the Sands. It may even have been the work shown as On the Sands, although another work with a signature in white opaque paint matching The Bathers might be a stronger candidate. The graphite signature of the current work appears to have read “MRothkowitz” before it was partly effaced, presumably by the artist, to read “MRothk[o].” This change was most likely made after 1940, when Rothko began using a truncated version of his given surname. The number assigned during Rothko’s inventory of 1968/1969 erroneously signifies a creation date of 1925–1927 for this work.
1. Milton Avery, Coney Island, c. 1933, oil on canvas, Allentown Art Museum, Gift of the Milton Avery Trust, 1994.
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.