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Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel Preview
March 9, 2015
224 P., 5 3/4 x 8 1/4

Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel

by Annie Cohen-Solal

Mark Rothko, one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, was born in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in 1903. He immigrated to the United States at age ten, taking with him his Talmudic education and his memories of pogroms and persecutions in Russia. His integration into American society began with a series of painful experiences, especially as a student at Yale, where he felt marginalized for his origins and ultimately left the school. The decision to become an artist led him to a new phase in his life. Early in his career, Annie Cohen-Solal writes, “he became a major player in the social struggle of American artists, and his own metamorphosis benefited from the unique transformation of the U.S. art world during this time.” Within a few decades, he had forged his definitive artistic signature, and most critics hailed him as a pioneer. The numerous museum shows that followed in major U.S. and European institutions ensured his celebrity. But this was not enough for Rothko, who continued to innovate. Ever faithful to his habit of confronting the establishment, he devoted the last decade of his life to cultivating his new conception of art as an experience, thanks to the commission of a radical project, the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.

Cohen-Solal’s fascinating biography, based on considerable archival research, tells the unlikely story of how a young immigrant from Dvinsk became a crucial transforming agent of the art world—one whose legacy prevails to this day.

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Feature Review: 

“[A] tightly focused, profoundly clarifying biography . . . A defining and affecting tribute to a modern master.”—Booklist, starred review

"This compact study places Rothko’s development within the context of the evolution of American art in the mid-twentieth century.... Cohen-Solal subtly demonstrates the link between Rothko’s three outsider statuses (artist, immigrant, and Jew), his color-block canvases, and his essential Americanness."--New Yorker

"Written in succinct and fast-paced prose, this streamlined volume (part of Yale’s Jewish Lives series) . . . argues that Rothko’s Jewishness is at the core of his life and art, and played a decisive influence in the austere and majestic canvases recognized today as his signature work."—Yaelle Azagury, New York Times Book Review

"Cohen-Solal has made an important contribution with a well-researched book about Rothko's life."--New Criterion

"Illuminating...Impressively sourced...A sublime little volume."--Washington Times

“Once again, Annie Cohen-Solal has done it. As with her book on Leo Castelli, she has managed to bring not only Mark Rothko, but his time, to life. This book is a grand blend of biography, cultural history, and art criticism. Rare is the scholar who can pull it off so masterfully.”—David N. Myers, Professor of Jewish History, UCLA History Department

"In this gripping biography, Cohen-Solal (Leo & His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli) examines the life and work of Rothko, an artist motivated by his spirituality and one of the most distinguished painters of the 20th century...This novelistic account is a rewarding close-up of Rothko’s personal life and his experience as a Jewish immigrant."-- Publisher's Weekly

‘In this moving and readable biography, Cohen-Solal tells the story of Rothko’s life through the prism of his Jewishness.’—Marcus Field, The Independent

“It’s unlikely that many of Rothko’s admirers understand his art as he wanted it understood. . . . Annie Cohen-Solal . . . corrects our perceptions in Mark Rothko.”—National Post

"…both a moving tribute to a great artist and a gripping story. Its strength lies in placing Rothko in the contexts of a Europe devastated by wars and anti-Jewish violence, and America’s post-war cultural scene, and the light that Rothko’s life sheds on both these tumultuous eras."—Tracey Warr, THES

"Cohen-Solal does an excellent job of guiding us through the New York art world… Her style is clear and she makes interesting connections between Rothko and the larger cultural world of mid-century America."—David Herman, Jewish Renaissance

“This compact study places Rothko’s development within the context of the evolution of American art in the mid-twentieth century . . . Cohen-Solal subtly demonstrates the link between Rothko’s three outsider statuses (artist, immigrant, and Jew), his color-block canvases, and his essential Americanness.”—New Yorker

"Cohen-Solal's work is well-written and well-argued, and will be of interest to anyone concerned with Rothko, modern art, American intellectual history or the politics and processes of Jewish identity and assimilation."—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“An admirable attempt to construct a coherent framework around what is undeniably a complicated, not to say messy, life.”—Washington Post

“Engrossing.”—Times Higher Education Supplement

"Cohen-Solal's study of Mark Rothko is notable for her ability to link his strong Jewish ties to his changing, evolving art. Her access to newly available archives enables her comprehensive portrait of the man . . . A sure hit for fans of art history, and readers looking to understand modern art and especially abstraction will find this wonderfully enlightening."—Kirkus Reviews

“Written with empathy, this biography is not merely one man’s singular history, however fractured and dazzling. Here, the reader is embedded in the heart of successive ‘art worlds’ and, at each step of the painter’s life, the biographer enriches her interpretation, connecting it to multiple realms: the geopolitical, the socio-economic, the aesthetic.”—Raymonde Moulin, Le Journal des arts

“Digging into family archives and into the most recent scholarly research, the writer re-creates the metamorphosis of this tormented and hypersensitive artist as New York is becoming the center of the art world. The reader passionately follows this ‘gloomy and enigmatic’ man dive into Abstraction thanks to his interaction with Matisses’ Red Studio in 1949, as well as his search for a contemplative experience in which the viewer could step into his paintings, as exemplified in the Houston Chapel.—Myriam Boutoulle, Connaissance des Arts

“This is less a traditional biography than the trajectory of a Jewish immigrant painter in the 20th century. Annie Cohen-Solal carefully attends to understanding the choices made by the artist in light of the historical events of his time.”—Fabien Simode, L’Oeil

“My admiration is boundless for those who manage to craft a painter’s biography—I mean a complete biography, merging work and life, analyzing both of them equally. Although it seemed an unreachable task to me . . . Annie Cohen-Solal, after other noted books . . . excels in tracking down Rothko’s position in New York artistic life . . . through a formidable and remarkably documented inquiry.”—Pierre Assouline, La République des lettres

“Annie Cohen-Solal’s book, altogether well-documented, sensitive and ambitious, is an invitation to better interact with an artist and his art, as its focus is on the core of Rothko’s being.”—Roger Pierre Turine, La libre Belgique

“[A] tightly focused, profoundly clarifying biography . . . A defining and affecting tribute to a modern master.”—Booklist, starred review

Annie Cohen-Solal

Annie Cohen-Solal

Annie Cohen-Solal is an academic and a cultural historian. Born in Algiers, she received her Ph.D. degree from the Sorbonne. Her books include the acclaimed Sartre: A Life and Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli, winner of the ArtCurial Prize. She has served as cultural counselor to the French Embassy in the United States.

Sept 10 Salisbury, Ct. WHITE HART INN (7:00 pm)
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Sept 12 Martha’s Vineyard THE CHILMARK LIBRARY (5:00 pm)
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Sept 17 Scranton, PA UNIVERSITY OF SCRATON, THE SCHEMEL FORUM (12 to 1:30 pm)
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Sept 20 Houston MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS (2:00 pm)
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Oct 30 Washington, D.C. SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART (5:30 pm)
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Nov 1 Westport, Ct. TEMPLE ISRAEL (11:00 am)

Nov 3 New York City GAGOSIAN GALLERY (Annie Cohen Solal will be in conversation with Leonard Lauder) details forthcoming

Nov 7 Water Mill, NY WATERMILL CENTER details forthcoming

Jan 11 New York 92ND STREET Y details forthcoming