In 1947, Mark Rothko moved away from Surrealism. In works such as Untitled (1947), Rothko replaced his earlier biomorphic imagery with a more abstracted style as he began to formulate his mature idiom. Painted between 1947 and 1949, these transitional works (termed “multiforms” after his death) contain fragmented shapes that do not fully traverse the picture plane. In his 1947 – 1948 essay “The Romantics Were Prompted,”, Rothko described how forms in paintings are both connected to and distanced from the natural world: “They move with internal freedom, and without need to conform with or to violate what is probable in the familiar world. They have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organism.”

Untitled (1947) follows the characteristic format of Mark Rothko’s work, in which stacked rectangles of color appear to float within the boundaries of the canvas. By directly staining the canvas with many thin washes of pigment and paying particular attention to the edges where the fields interact, he achieved the effect of light radiating from the image itself. This technique suited Rothko’s metaphysical aims: to offer painting as a doorway into purely spiritual realms, making it as immaterial and evocative as music, and to directly communicate the most essential, raw forms of human emotion.The arrangements of irregular patches of colors – abstracted extensions of his Surrealist forms – evoke the organic qualities of Rothko’s earlier work. At the same time the broad areas of color that often overlay these forms prefigure his quintessential abstract works.