Where is the ‘maroon’?
The restoration also set out to explain why the painting’s title includes the word ‘maroon’ although there is no visible ‘chestnut brown’ in the overwhelmingly black colour palette. Given its almost unbroken history of being exhibited at the Kunsthaus Zürich, it was suspected that the colours may have been altered by exposure to the lighting.
The detailed, non-destructive pigment analyses using micro-X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (micro-XRF) conducted in early summer this year in collaboration with the Swiss Institute for Art Research (SIK-ISEA) and the Swiss National Museum revealed clear indications that light-sensitive red pigments had been used. Mixing of red and blue could therefore easily have led to a type of brown. However, research in the literature and discussions with art historians indicated that Rothko probably used ‘maroon’ as a generic term for a wide variety of hues, and in this case did not therefore necessarily mean a shade of brown.
The results of the analyses, especially given the evidence concerning Rothko’s use of the term ‘maroon’, are therefore not sufficiently unambiguous to prove that the colour has changed from an original brown to the current black as a result of excessive light exposure.
Restorers: Tobias Haupt / Laura Ledwina
Project period: March – October 2021
The conservation project was made possible thanks to support from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.