Modern Art Discovers Pompeii (2): Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals.
When thinking of Naples, the names of modern artists, particularly leading ones like Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol tend not to come to mind; but both were fascinated by the story of Pompeii, and in the case of Warhol the eruption of Vesuvius. Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was born in Russia but moved to America where he pioneered what is sometimes called “all-over painting” in which the canvas is drenched in one or two leading colours. Rothko visited Naples has he had always held classical artists, and just as importantly the myths that their pictures communicated, in high esteem. The Seagram Murals, a series of wall paintings commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant housed in the Seagram Building in New York were felt by the artist to have a deep affinity with the red of the frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries at Pompeii. Other abstract artists in Rothko’s vicinity took inspiration from Pompeii, like William Baziotes (1912-1963) who said to the Director of MOMA, Alfred H. Barr that he had drawn inspiration from Rome’s “decadence, satiety, subtlety and languor.” According to art historian Vincent Bruno who has studied the links between Rothko’s art and the Second Style of Pompeii: “In the Roman murals as in Rothko’s art, the color-field becomes the border that that separates the physical world we occupy from an imaginary world beyond the picture plane, while the colonnades in front appear to project , thus involving the viewer in a spatial continuum that leads from an everyday world within the confines of a room to a realm beyond the ordinary, a realm of fantasy.” Rothko kept a number of canvases when he withdrew from the project in 1960, eventually agreeing to give a group of nine to the Tate; tragically, the Seagram murals (above) arrived at the museum on the same day that Rothko committed suicide in 1970.
 Last Days of Pompeii, no. 38.
 Quoted in Last Days of Pompeii, 168.