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Why is the yellow blue painting so expensive?

Why is the yellow blue painting so expensive?

The high price of the yellow blue painting can seem perplexing to many. However, there are several factors that contribute to its lofty valuation. In this article, we will explore the history, significance, and attributes of the work that make it a coveted piece in the art world.

The Painting’s Background

The yellow blue painting was created in 1953 by the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. Rothko, along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, was a leading figure in the postwar abstract expressionist movement that revolutionized American art. His signature style featured large fields of luminous, shimmering color layered one on top of the other.

This particular work exemplifies Rothko’s technique. Measuring over 7 feet tall and 9 feet wide, it features a radiant yellow rectangle floating over an atmospheric field of blue. The expanse of color envelops the viewer, creating a contemplative, meditative experience. The emotive resonance of the colors and Rothko’s expert handling of paint create a transcendent environment within the canvas.

The painting was originally commissioned, along with a series of other works by Rothko, for the luxury restaurant of the Seagram Building in New York City. However, Rothko eventually withdrew from the commission, keeping this and other works for himself. He felt strongly that the spiritual nature of his art would be degraded if displayed as decorations in a commercial setting. The painting remained in Rothko’s personal collection until it was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in 1986.

Rothko’s Significance in Art History

As a pioneer of abstract expressionism, Rothko helped redefine painting in the 20th century. Along with his contemporaries, he broke away from figurative representation to focus purely on the expressive use of color, form, and texture. His luminous fields of color were meant to induce a transcendental, emotional experience in the viewer through their contemplation.

Rothko’s work influenced generations of artists, including the Color Field painters of the 1960s and 70s. His canvases have become icons of postwar American art and examples of the power of abstraction. Major museums around the world, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Tate Gallery in London, hold important Rothko works in their collections.

Within Rothko’s lifetime of work, the yellow blue painting is considered an outstanding example from his prime period in the 1950s. It exemplifies his shift to more bright, contrasting colors that create a sense of drama within the shimmering fields of color. The National Gallery of Art, which holds one of the world’s finest Rothko collections, calls it one of his most important paintings.

The Art Market for Rothko’s Works

Rothko’s works now fetch enormous sums on the international art market. In 2012, one of his orange, red, and yellow paintings from 1961 sold for $87 million at a Christie’s auction, setting a record price for a postwar artwork at the time. In comparison, when the yellow blue painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1986, it was purchased for a mere $10 million.

Why do Rothko’s works command such astronomical prices compared to most other 20th century artists? Several factors drive the demand from wealthy collectors and investors:

  • Rarity – Rothko’s distinct style means there is a finite number of major works in existence.
  • Museum validation – Inclusion of his works in prestigious collections like the National Gallery raises their profile.
  • Historical significance – As a leading abstract expressionist, Rothko’s work is seen as hugely influential.
  • Record prices – Rothko’s soaring auction prices feed further demand as investors chase ever-higher returns.

In this context, standout paintings like the yellow blue piece are virtually priceless on the art market today. Wealthy buyers are willing to pay top dollar to own a slice of art history.

Attributes That Drive the Painting’s Value

Beyond Rothko’s significance as an artist, the yellow blue painting itself possesses attributes that make it exceptionally valuable.

Attribute Description
Large scale At over 7 x 9 feet, the work has imposing physical dimensions that immerse the viewer.
Vibrant colors The radiant yellow and deep blue have an expressive contrast.
Minimalist composition The simple rectangle-on-field format creates a powerfully meditative space.
Original commissioned work It was specially commissioned for the Seagram Building, giving it historical importance.
Prime period It dates from Rothko’s high point creatively in the 1950s.

The painting essentially represents the pinnacle of Rothko’s most sought-after period and style. Collectors covet works that Rothko personally retained, outside of commercial commissions. This painting was originally meant for a luxury commission yet Rothko kept it for himself, adding to its appeal. The luminous colors, grand scale, and minimalist elegance all contribute to its mystique in the eyes of both museum curators and private collectors.


In the end, the astronomical price of the yellow blue painting reflects Rothko’s status as a trailblazer of abstract expressionism coupled with this particular work’s outstanding attributes. As an influential artist whose works are scarce, desired by museums, and have sold for record prices, Rothko’s value continues rising. The yellow blue painting, as an elite example from his most important creative period, embodies the qualities that make Rothko’s art so coveted and highly prized in the art world and market today.