The making of Mark Rothko's Harvard Murals

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Jens Stenger; Narayan Khandekar; Annie Wilker; Katya Kallsen; Daniel P. Kirby; Katherine Eremin;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 61, Number 6, p.331-347 (2016)


Mark Rothko's Harvard Murals are a series of paintings on canvas commissioned by Harvard University and created in the early 1960s. The present study investigates Rothko's creative process, materials, and technique with ultraviolet and infrared imaging, analytical chemistry, cross-sectional analysis, and comparisons with the literature. Infrared and Raman spectroscopy imaging of cross sections help with the chemical mapping of the paint stratifications. A comparison of paper studies, studies on canvas, and the final five works installed give a detailed insight into Rothko's editing process. The intimate relationship between works on paper and canvas is traced by uncovering a back and forth between the two media, and the mixing of dry pigment with binder is a common theme for works on both supports. Motif developments, changes, and distinct painting campaigns become apparent with ultraviolet induced visible fluorescence imaging and infrared reflected infrared digital photography. Color measurements and microfading experiments give insight into the stability and light sensitivity of the materials used by Rothko in the Harvard Murals.