VIDEO: A Moment in Art History: Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals – A Dramatic Commission Cancellation

It was the opportunity of a lifetime: an enormous commission for a well-known company’s high-class dining space. In today’s Moment in Art History, we’ll talk about the commission’s dramatic cancellation and Mark Rothko’s motives for walking away from a major project.


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Parts of the video script were sourced from Wikipedia:

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. While I was writing my book, An Artist Empowered, I asked art critic Dore Ashton if Mark
    Rothko, whom she knew, had a philosophy on persevering, she revealed the following:

    In 1955, Rothko gave this advice to a fellow painter who was on the receiving end of rejection:

    “You are part of an underground. You are a partisan, a freedom fighter. You are on your own. Don’t expect help, or reinforcements.”

    —Mark Rothko

  2. I came across Mark Rothko in art school. Art school was a huge shift of terrain for me. I went from an 12 x18″ world of genre type assignments to a place where one had to have “art ideas” and be able to express them writ large. My drawing pads were 18 x24″ and finished drawings bigger than that sometimes.
    Art History was an ugly “art in the dark” disaster.

    And then I went to NYCity to visit an art school friend one summer during school.
    I don’t remember much except MOMA. It was there I was catapulted into the terrain I now inhabit. Rounding a corner, I came into the room with the 3 Monet Waterlilies. If the bench wasn’t there, I would have fallen down. They were huge beyond anything I had ever seen. The slides of art history were in an 18×24″ world and were a lie. And then, I came into the presence of “Guernica”. Everyone did the same thing. They backed up as far as they could and still could not escape being “in the painting” so to speak.

    In 1971 I went back to NY to see the massive “New York Painting and Sculpture show.” I sought out Mark Rothko’s work. (I had apparently seen some examples before hand). And there they were. I can remember thinking about how many tubes of red did it take to cover that real estate? But what was really exciting was the dynamics of the colors- they were not static nor were the edges precise. It was as he had always claimed it was- the raw emotion of the color. I can’t tell you what referential emotions I might have tried to have. I can tell you that time and space stopped, and I could feel in internal kind of movement.

    One of my first paintings after art school was a 40 x 60 vertical painting with the heavy glazing that Rembrandt was noted for and the brilliant reds I have seen in Rothko’s work. I needed to paint an acre or red.

    Rothko is a constant informative presence in my studio to this day.

  3. An excellent example of an artist holding to his principles.
    An interesting twist to Mark Rothko’s attitude toward the upper crust dinner patrons is that these wealthy patrons now pay millions for his work. This reminds me of another artist (also with a Marxist background) who did a similar rejection of the client that hired him. Diego Rivera was commissioned by Rockefeller to paint a mural in the lobby of a new skyscraper.
    It was discoverd on completion that he had painted the syphilis microbe over Mr Rockefeller’s head.
    The mural, a stunning, powerful masterpiece was duly ordered destroyed and sandblasted off the wall.

  4. I remember Rothko from my art history studies in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I liked his work a lot at that time. I was awed by the subtleties of the color blends in the edges of his huge rectangular color fields. It certainly was more impressive in real life than what I can see in the video you have shown us. I did not learn any of the details you told us, however, and it is tragic that he took his life. I don’t know what I think about his rebellion against the elite. I may be a bit more pragmatic. Why bite the hand that feeds you? Kind of an entitled attitude if you ask me. But I may have very different thoughts later. And I do have the kind of nature that wants to stand up for political causes.

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