Near the end of WW II, Mark Rothko remarried. His palette brightened. His usual, dismal outlook did too. One of his best works from this period reads something like a marriage portrait. Slow Swirl by the Edge of the Sea has a primordial, delicately decorative quality amid an uplifting sweep of delightfully organic but unidentifiable forms. Influenced by Milton Avery as well as his friend and fellow artist, Adolph Gottlieb, there seems also to be a hint of Joan Miro as well. Rothko also claimed to have painted this work in response to having seen Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. It was the New York School with an Italian Renaissance flavor.
Despite his alliance with the Abstract Expressionist of the time, Rothko always vehemently denied being an Abstractionist. His insistence on subject matter in his work even as he moved into the 1960s and his trademark color-field paintings spawned a preoccupation amongst critics to lend narrative meaning from births to burials to his work. More likely, Rothko's insistence upon subject matter was a reaction to the fear that his painting might be considered merely "decorative". Late in life, as his work became more popular and highly salable, he began to show signs of clinical depression. In 1970, he committed suicide by slitting his wrists. He was 67. Following his death and a landmark court battle between his heirs and the executors of his estate, prices for his paintings vaulted into the stratosphere. (Also stratospheric was the seven-million-dollar judgement won by his heirs against the directors of a charitable foundation established in his will.) A retrospective of some 100 of his works is now on display through August 16 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.