I was reminded of this reading this recent interview with Kate Rothko Prizel, daughter of Mark Rothko, and her thoughts on the forthcoming Tate Modern Rothko show, which focuses on the later works:
'Seeing these paintings standing alone may have a very different effect on the audience,' she says. 'This time, there will be no side-by-side comparisons with the bright works of the 1950s, and [thus] the audience will not have a tendency to see the darkening colours as representing a change in his mood. With retrospectives, there is often a feeling [as you approach the monochromatic late works] that this was the ultimate walk towards his suicide. But look at them in isolation, and instead you simply feel something opening up before him. I do not connect any feeling of frustration in him at this time with a frustration over where his work was going. I see these paintings as a new beginning for him rather than a reflection of his mood.
'No one would deny that my father was very depressed towards the end of his life. I used to be very engrossed with that idea, too. There was a terrible tendency for me to see the paintings darkening, becoming less accessible emotionally, more hard-edged. I had a hard time separating them from his depression. But then I saw an exhibition at the Menil Collection in Houston, work that followed his completion of the paintings for the Rothko Chapel [commissioned by Dominique and Jean de Menil in the mid-1960s]. I hadn't been familiar with those works. It was a period when I wasn't in the studio a lot, and my father didn't have any at home. It was fascinating to see how those works had grown out of the chapel, and then how they led to the black and greys. That was the beginning of a whole new way of seeing for me.'