Untitled (Red over Brown) is a small oil-on-paper painting (31 by 23 inches). With a red square sitting above a brown and blue rectangle, and the whole floating over a grey background, it suggests an unlimited space that creates a feeling of calm for the viewer, and a desire to prolong the experience.
Rothko produced many works that featured shapes, particularly rectangles. He is known for his enthusiastic use of colours, but they are not always bright shades. More muted and darker hues, like the ones here, can elicit emotion and a sense of depth that brighter canvases may only have to a lesser extent. However, his compositions are never flat geometric arrangements, but are layered with soft edges, and seem to hover, as is very much the case in this painting. Music and theatre were other passions of the artist, and in his art, Rothko sought to convey the same emotions as an audience feels at a concert or a play.
There is always depth in a Rothko painting, and that is very evident in Untitled (Red over Brown), with the word "over" in the title underlining this. He experimented with the thickness of different mediums, including natural ones such as egg. He pointed out that he didn't consider himself an abstractionist, wanting only to convey feelings from extreme joy through to depression, and this became more apparent as he got closer to the time of his suicide in 1970.
As in this painting, brown, red and black were often elements of Rothko's canvases, where fuzzy-edged lozenge shapes hover over layer upon layer of oil paint. Light was an essential element, and Rothko felt a strong affinity with artists such as Matisse and Turner. Indeed, he donated his 1950s Seagram Murals to London's Tate Britain because of his interest in British art, and in Turner in particular. The murals had originally been intended for a restaurant, but with their calming, contemplative colours similar to those in Untitled (Red over Brown), it's easy to see why Rothko changed his mind.
He also admired Cézanne, and met Picasso, Chagall and Rousseau in Paris, with the latter becoming a friend. It's also possible to see the influence of Spanish painters like Goya and El Greco in Rothko's use of light. His fascination with Freud and Jung was another factor in the emotional direction of his work, while the experiences of the Second World War added a sense of tragedy.
Today, many painters, including some Saatchi artists, continue the journey started by Mark Rothko. Untitled (Red over Brown), held at the Currier Museum of Art, in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, is a typical example of his art, which has lost none of its power to move and engage art lovers.