During the 1940s Rothko's imagery became increasingly symbolic. In the social climate of anxiety that dominated the late 1930s and the years of World War II, images from everyday life–however unnaturalistic–began to appear somewhat outmoded. If art were to express the tragedy of the human condition, Rothko felt, new subjects and a new idiom had to be found. He said,
It was with the utmost reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes….But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it.”
Rothko's early expressionist paintings on everyday subjects reflected Max Weber's influence as well as that of artists such as Marc Chagall
and Chaim Soutine.