This watercolor of horses in a mountainous landscape might relate to one of three studies Rothko submitted to a mural competition for the post office of New Rochelle, New York. Rothko’s proposal, now lost, is known only from a photograph in the National Archives, Washington, DC (fig. 1). In the smaller study at the upper left in the National Archives photograph, two riders on horseback interact as a covered wagon recedes in the background. The present work, a study of horses viewed form the side and rear, may have informed Rothko’s subject and composition for the mural proposal.
A revised announcement for the murals competition, dated August 23, 1938, recommended that artists “realize that the central idea of the Postal Service is communication, by which experience, ideas, and goods are shared throughout the civilized world” [National Archives, Washington, DC, RG:121 8000781]. Rothko, in attempting to fulfill this directive, depicted two landscapes and one seascape in which groups of figures in period dress gesticulate, respectively, toward a covered wagon, a ship under full sail, and a steam locomotive, evoking trans- and intercontinental commerce and communication of the past three centuries. The closing date of the mural competition was December 1, 1938, which suggests an approximate date of execution for the current work.
1. Photograph of Mark Rothko’s sketches submitted to the murals competition for the post office of New Rochelle, NY, National Archives, Washington, DC (121-MS-NEWR-R-18A).
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.