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The US painter Mark Rothko (1903-70) received his first major commission in 1958 for the paintings now known as the Seagram Murals. For the series, Rothko abandoned the brighter colour schemes of his past works, opting instead for a sombre colour palette of reds, browns and blacks. The pieces were intended to line the walls of the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue – a glittering symbol of New York opulence. However, as the UK curator, gallerist and video essayist James Payne explores in this episode of his YouTube series Great Art Explained, Rothko later abruptly withdrew the works after dining at the restaurant himself. In his analysis of Rothko’s work, Payne takes viewers on a deep dive into the historical context and making of the murals, including how they were delivered to the Tate in London on the same day Rothko was discovered dead by suicide in his New York studio. In doing so, Payne hints at the inherent tensions between money and artistic intention that extend far beyond Rothko’s Seagram project.
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