During the summer of 1933 Rothko and Edith Sachar (1912–1981), who married in November 1932, hitchhiked from New York to Portland, Oregon, to visit Rothko’s mother [Maurice Roth, oral history interview, September 15, 1984, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC]. This watercolor was likely made at that time, when Rothko and Edith camped in Forest Park in the Tualatin Mountains west of downtown Portland. Rothko produced numerous watercolors there, including this elevated western view of the Willamette River and the valley beyond (see Related Works on Paper). During a later visit to Portland, in 1955, Rothko mentioned to an interviewer that his favorite view in the city was from Terwilliger Boulevard, a scenic parkway planned in 1903 by John Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., that winds along the hills west of the city near Forest Park. It is possible that Terwilliger Boulevard provided Rothko’s precise vantage point for this watercolor. The prominent structure on the near riverbank at the left edge of the composition resembles the scrap metal business Alaska Junk (fig. 1).
The abrupt cropping of this cityscape indicates that there was more to Rothko’s composition on the full sheet (likely a standard size of 15 x 22 inches) before it was cut in half; the other half of the sheet is unlocated, but the image on the reverse side of the sheet, painted years later, appears to be a complete composition.
1. View of South Portland near the Ross Island Bridge. City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2004-002.1844.
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.