Breaking: Rothko Seagram Mural Painting Vandalized at Tate Modern in London

October 8th, 2012

Image: The vandalized section of a Mark Rothko Seagram mural painting at The Tate Modern

A Mark Rothko painting was vandalized at the Tate Modern on October 7th, said the museum. The piece in question was a Seagram mural, one of a series of works commissioned by New York’s Four Seasons restaurant in 1958-9; the series was one of Rothko’s most important and meaningful projects.

Image: The painting that was defaced – Mark Rothko, Black on Maroon © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998

Image: Rothko’s Black on Maroon was defaced, via The Telegraph

The Seagram murals were gifted to the Tate by Rothko in 1969 and received in 1970, on the day of Rothko’s death.

The graffiti reads: “Vladimir Umanets, A Potential Piece of Yellowism.” There is speculation that it references the website,, published by Vladimir Umanets and Marcin Lodyga, a blog about conceptual art.

The history of the paintings is complex, according to the Tate:
As he worked on the commission Rothko’s conception of the scheme became more and more sombre and he abandoned the first series as being too light in mood. He then adopted a palette of black on maroon and dark red on maroon, and compositional structures of open, rectangular, window-like forms, rather than his usual arrangement of uniform rectangular patches, used for the first series. He later said ‘After I had been at work for some time I realised that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo’s walls in the staircase room of the Medicean Library in Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after …’ The reference is to the motif of heavily pedimented blank stone windows set in the white walls of the ante-room of the Laurentian Library, which together with other architectural effects created there by Michelangelo, create an atmosphere noted for its oppressive, almost frightening, grandeur. In the end Rothko decided to withhold his murals from installation in the Four Seasons, his reported reason being that he did not wish his pictures to be a background to the eating of the privileged. Clearly, in any case, he had created a series of paintings whose particularly solemn and meditative character ill-suited a fashionable restaurant. It was these paintings, seen in Rothko’s studio in 1960 by John and Dominique de Menu, that prompted these art lovers to commission Rothko to decorate a chapel that they would build in Houston, Texas. The project, described by Rothko as the most important of his life, was completed just before his death in 1970.
In 1965, influenced by the idea that his pictures would be in the same building as Turner, Rothko suggested making a gift to the Tate Gallery. The works would be from the Four Seasons series and would be chosen by the artist to form a coherent group, to be shown in a space on their own. The gift was finalised in 1969 and the paintings arrived in 1970 [the other works are Tate Gallery T01163-T01170]. On the day of their arrival, as the huge crates were being unpacked to reveal their contents, a cable was received from New York announcing that Rothko had been found dead in his studio.

Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” sold for $86.9 million at Christie’s New York earlier this year, setting a new auction record for the artist. The Tate opened a new Rothko Room this year as part of its permanent exhibitions.

The Tate closed after the incident happened yesterday, and then reopened.  The museum said in a statement on October 7th: “Tate can confirm that at 15.25 this afternoon there was an incident at Tate Modern in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting. The police are currently investigating the incident.”

The Pace Gallery, which has represented the estate since 1968, issued a statement from The Rothko family on Oct 8th:
“The Rothko family is greatly troubled by yesterday’s occurrence but has full confidence that the Tate Gallery will do all in its power to remedy the situation. Our father donated his legendary Seagram paintings to the museum in 1969 sensing the commitment of the institution to his work and impressed by the warm embrace it had received from the British public. We are heartened to have felt that embrace again in the outpouring of distress and support that we and our father have received both directly and in public forums.”
– Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko

[BBC News]
[The Telegraph]
[The Tate Modern]
[The Guardian]