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 angularity of the facial structure in this drawing calls to mind Bridgman’s advocacy of a geometric undergirding to his physiognomies, which he likened to “architectural mouldings” [George B. Bridgman, Bridgman’s Life Drawing, 3rd ed. (New York, 1928), 114]. On a page devoted to “light and shade,” Bridgman provided an example of a bust and a face emerging from a darkened rectangle that is similar to this early drawing by Rothko (fig. 1). A pair of heads drawn by Rothko (presumably) on the verso of a letter from his friend Gordon Soule dated March 10, 1925 (fig. 2), shares the architectonic structure and dramatic shading of [Bust of a man]. Around 1924/1925 Rothko worked as a bookkeeper for his relative Samuel Nichtberger, CPA and tax attorney. This head, like a closely related variant, is drawn on Jurisprudence Bond with ruled margins like those often used in accounting firms, suggesting the mid-1920s as the earliest likely date for these works. Stylistically, however, neither differs markedly from other brush-and-ink drawings that can be responsibly dated to the early 1930s.
1. “Light & Shade,” from Bridgman’s Life Drawing, 119.
2. Studies of heads, ink on bond paper, verso of Gordon Soule to Marcus Rothkowitz, March 10, 1925, Collections of Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.
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.