Christie’s Upcoming 20th Century Evening Sale Features Rothko at His Most Depressed

Due to the painting's scarcity and because of its otherworldly quality, Christie's predicts that it will sell for approximately $40 million.

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (1970). Christie's

Some paintings are delicately rendered; gauzy confections blending light and color that can be pleasantly ingested like a glass of lemonade. Mark Rothko was not this sort of painter. His elemental, sometimes terrifying creations of obelisk-like blocks of shadow loom over the art world like towering sentries, and every time his art shows up on the market, it’s an event. On May 13th, as part of its upcoming 20th Century Evening Sale, Christie’s is offering Untitled (1970) by Mark Rothko, a painting that’s been part of the Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon Collection for decades. Standing at nearly 6 feet tall, the painting betrays the mental state of the artist in the months leading up to his suicide.

Leading up to his death, Rothko only painted three paintings in the year 1970, and Untitled is one of them. Because of the painting’s scarcity and because of its otherworldly quality, it’s been predicted by Christie’s that it will eventually sell for approximately $40 million. The painting has also been kept away from the public for so long because it was purchased in 1971, less than 18 months after it was completed, by the collectors and philanthropists Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. The painting has remained with them for decades, but Bunny Mellon passed away in 2014, clearing the path for the painting to re-emerge on the market.

It’s not often the case with the artist’s work, but the lighter blue lines dividing the darker chunks of shadow comprising Untitled evoke prison bars here. The melancholy of the blues he selected is also unmistakable. “Rothko’s penultimate painting, Untitled offers a parting vision of glowing, incandescent color; a luminous, resonant hymn that eloquently encapsulates the spirit of his life’s work,” Emily Kaplan, the Co-Head of Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale, said in a statement.

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