Mark Rothko’s abstractions, recognizable for their rectangularly shaped floating forms and thin washes of color, have been said by critics and historians to invoke the metaphysical. The Russian-American painter relied on these formal elements to imbue his canvases with grand meaning. He famously remarked his works comprise the basic tenets of human feeling: “tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”
The artist is remembered for his disdain for the art establishment as well. Though Rothko rejected associations with the art market’s elite during his lifetime, his paintings have long attracted some of the wealthiest patrons around the globe. In the late 1950s, Rothko produced a series of deep-red murals for the Seagram Building in Manhattan, commissioned by the Bronfman family who owned the historic hotel. The deal fell through when the artist decried the venue for its steep prices, but the works produced for the series went on to become some of the most well-known of his career. Several now reside on view at the Tate in London. The following decade, Texan mega-collectors John and Dominique de Menil assembled a collection of 14 monumental works by the Abstract Expressionist that would line the walls of the now-famed Rothko Chapel in Houston. This past September, that beloved space reopened after a $30 million restoration.
Now as then, Rothko’s works command some of the highest prices on the market. This November, the sale of the $600 million collection of another set of major collectors, the divorcing New York billionaire couple Harry and Linda Macklowe, looks to bring a new auction benchmark for the artist. A Rothko painting held by the Macklowes, No. 7 (1951), is expected to fetch $70 million. If it reaches that estimate, it will surpass the painter’s prior auction record, set in 2012, when Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) sold at Christie’s in New York for $86.8 million.
Below, a list of Rothko’s top auction prices.