Rothko and Richter, A 20th Century Landscape

The landscape is one of arts most enduring subject matters–however, depending on the artist and period, the execution of a landscape has been ever changing. When looking at Mark Rothko’s mid 20th century color-field paintings, the viewer almost steps inside of it into an abstracted landscape. Detached from the material world and without any context, the viewer mind is left able to project any scene onto the canvas. The colors on the canvas provide the only boundaries for the landscape. The color which are painted mostly in two sections, form a horizon line that separates the sky and the earth or water below. The Rothko colorfield paintings allow the viewer to create their own ideal landscape by leaving the subject matter vague and open to their own projections.

Conversely, German artist Gerhard Richter’s late 20th-century photorealistic landscapes are seemingly the antithesis of Rothko’s. Richter’s landscapes, however, still have the same painterly and abstract quality about them like Rothko’s color fields. Richter’s landscape show you one specific scene in such a realistic way that they are almost crossing into unrealistic territory. This connection between the totally abstract Rothko landscape and the photorealistic Richter one can be easily made when an examples of each artist’s landscape are viewed next to each other. For example, when looking at the first painting in this below and Mark Rothko’s completely black canvas from the Rothko Chapel, the viewer can see into the painting and see the exact scene that Richter paints to the right.

The connections between the genius abstract painter and the master painter of realism are more than what meets the eye. 

Mark Rothko, ‘Untitled’
Gerhard Richter, ‘Paysage Enneigé (flou)’ 1966
Mark Rothko, ‘Untitled’
Gerhard Richter, ‘Seascape (Brown, Smooth)’ 1969
Mark Rothko, ‘Blue’ 1969
Gerhard Richter, ‘Iceberg’ 1982
Mark Rothko, Untitled


Gerhard Richter, ‘Sommertag’ 1999
Mark Rothko, ‘Untitled (Yellow and Green)’, 1954
Gerhard Richter, ‘Apple Trees (Sketch)’ 1987



40 thoughts on “Rothko and Richter, A 20th Century Landscape”

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    1. Hi, I am glad you liked it. This blog post was based on an Art History project I did at school where we curated our own exhibits, so the connection between Rothko and Richter was one I made on my own. I find them to be incredibly similar, its not based on any outside information, but rather what I personally see. I hope you will continue to read my blog!

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    1. Hi, I picked Gerhard Richter and Mark Rothko to compare for an art history project, but I also always saw similarities in their work. For example, when I look at an all black Rothko painting, I always see a Richter-esque landscape beneath it. Thank you for reading and I hope that answered your question.

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