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Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1958, private collection © 2023 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / BONO
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1958, private collection © 2023 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / BONO

Press release -

Mark Rothko exhibition opens at the National Museum in Oslo

The first major Mark Rothko exhibition in the Nordic region shows a less familiar side of Rothko’s production: Paintings on paper.

Mark Rothko. Paintings on Paper
The National Museum, Light Hall
Oslo, Norway
May–22 September 2024

Press preview: Monday 13 May, 11.00–13.00
To attend, please write to by 12.00 on Friday 10 May.

The colourful paintings of Mark Rothko (1903–1970) reinvigorated abstract art and made him one of the most important artists of the 20th century. This summer, the National Museum, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is showing a broad selection of works that represent a less familiar side of Rothko’s production. With nearly 80 paintings on paper, the exhibition traces the artist’s development from his early figurative works and surrealist experiments, via his well-known colour field paintings, through to his last works.

– Rothko’s colour field paintings made him one of the most pioneering and central artists of the 20th century. And he is still relevant today. Late last year, both the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., opened wonderful exhibitions of his paintings. And now people can see a Rothko exhibition at the National Museum. It’s an experience we are incredibly proud to offer our visitors, says director Ingrid Røynesdal at the National Museum.

– Rothko was from a Jewish family and experienced persecution early in life and later alienation when his family emigrated from present-day Latvia to the United States. From a distance he witnessed the Holocaust. What emerged from this background were abstract paintings charged with feeling, atmosphere and emotional states including grief and tragedy. This is what makes his paintings expressive in an indescribably beautiful way, says Curator at the National Museum, Øystein Ustvedt.

A career in art from end to end
Although best known for his large abstract paintings on canvas, Mark Rothko also painted some 1,000 works on paper. His paintings on paper challenge ideas of what a painting is and reveals an aspect of Rothko’s art that receives closer attention in this exhibition. The genres range from landscapes, portraits and surrealist projects to his characteristic, rectangular colour field works.

The exhibition at the National Museum is organised around four key periods in which painting on paper was crucial to Rothko’s artistic development and quest for a personal idiom. In the Light Hall at the National Museum, you can follow this development through the course of his career.

Following a heart attack in 1968, Rothko was encouraged to work with less demanding materials and formats. As a result, he increased his production of paintings on paper. Some of the works from this period show a sombre palette dominated by black, brown and grey. As a result, they have been interpreted as a reflection of his mental health and a foreboding of his suicide in 1970. But in several of his last works, Rothko also uses bright tones of purple, pink and blue, which complicate our picture of his final years. This richer picture is well illustrated in the National Museum’s exhibition.

– Rothko wanted to be intimate and human and to communicate directly with the viewer. In the encounter with his paintings, you have to spend some time in front of them in order to feel their full effect. These are works that have a unique ability to evoke powerful emotions and affinity, says Karianne Ommundsen, Curator Education at the National Museum.

Catalogue and events
The conciding catalogue Mark Rothko. Paintings on Paper (National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press, 2023) is written by Adam Greenhalgh, curator at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The exhibition is accompanied by a rich programme of events at the National Museum, including a talk exclusively for members of the museum by Mark Rothko’s son, Christopher Rothko, about his father’s life and art.

Rothko in the Collection Exhibition
In parallel with the exhibition Mark Rothko. Paintings on Paper, visitors have a unique opportunity to see one of Rothko’s large paintings on canvas in the National Museum’s collection exhibition. The work No. 8 from 1949 is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and can be viewed in Room 75 throughout the exhibition period.

Present at the press preview: Director of the National Museum, Ingrid Røynesdal, Curator Øystein Ustvedt and Curator Education Karianne Ommundsen from the National Museum, Curator Adam Greenhalgh from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA.

Press Images
NB! Please note these special conditions for use of press images of Mark Rothko’s work:
The image must only be displayed in its entirety and not cropped or changed in format.
The image must not be overlaid by other images or text.
Credits must be verbatim and contain the entire credits text.

This summer’s exhibition programme at the National Museum
Britta Marakatt-Labba. Moving the Needle
15 March–25 August
The Light Hall

Kandinsky. Into the Unknown
3 May–18 August
Prints and drawings gallery
2nd Floor

Very Different Tendencies. A Selection of New Works from the Collection
31 May–25 August
1st floor

Becoming Anna-Eva Bergman

14 June–24 November
The Light Hall

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The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design is the largest art museum in the Nordics. The collection contains 400,000 objects ranging from the antiquity to the present day and includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, textiles, furniture and architectural models. The new museum building opened in June 2022. At the National Museum visitors can experience a comprehensive Collection presentation of around 6,500 works, as well as a varied programme of temporary exhibitions and events. 


Simen Joachim Helsvig

Simen Joachim Helsvig

Press contact Communications advisor +47 917 64 327
Mari Grinde Arntzen

Mari Grinde Arntzen

Press contact Communication Advisor +47 92404969