This highly contemporary piece was auctioned by Sotheby's as recently as May, 2015 and achieved an impressive final price of $46,450,000, which fell between the boundaries of the original estimate. It was hung in their New York office for all to see and admire, standing as it does at over two metres in height. This grand size was a key element of the artist's desire to shock and excite viewers, as the canvas would stretch beyond their peripheral vision and essentially engulf them into his world of colour. He had started working in this manner from around the early 1940s and so by now was extremely comfortable in using this approach. Rothko was playing a key role within the New York School, which helped this city to be considered perhaps the spearhead of international art during this period.
Rothko always worked in an expressive manner but he was not originally an abstract artist. To see Untitled (Yellow and Blue) in front of us here, it is hard to imagine how anyone could realistically work in anymore abstract a style than the simplistic shapes of this piece. Up to this point Rothko had developed in different ways, taking influences from both European and American art. By now he was 51 years of age and clearly felt at home with the way in which he was now working. He believed that in producing large bands of colour that held no connection to anything from reality that the viewer could be sent into a world of infinite space, unsure where a start or end point might be found. In the year of 1954 he would have produced around twenty paintings in total, most likely from the same studio in New York. He experimented with different arrangements of shapes, with a greater or smaller number of blocks of colour. He also sometimes blurred the edges, and on other occasions left shapes with fairly sharp finishes for a more precise look.
A number of Rothko paintings have come up for sale at auction over the past two decades after a number were originally sold just after his death. Much controversy existed around the nature of some of the sales at that time, leading to some pro-longed legal battles. Those fortunate enough to have acquired any of his original paintings from around the time of his death or just after would now be able to sell their piece on for a considerable profit. Several other pieces have also achieved prices in the region of many millions of dollars and some investors are now starting to regard contemporary art as a genuine opportunity for profitable trading. All this may not be particularly important for the artworks themselves, but it does continue to draw the artist's name back into the media every now and again.