The best way to appreciate an artist’s mature work is to be as familiar as possible with their earlier work. In this painting from 1938 we see not only how varied the journey can be, but also how accomplished Rothko’s command of composition is.
We feel the couple’s relationship very strongly through his marvellous use of distortion. His integration of the couple with shapes and parallels is wonderful.
I’ll begin with how the rectangles of the structure behind are repeated in the woman’s hat and the collar of her dress. The integration ensures she is well connected with the structure, conveying a feeling of strength and stability.
Next, the couple are beautifully integrated with each other with a series of parallels. Let’s begin with the angle of the man’s left arm at the shoulder. If you follow the angle downward, your eye will connect with the angle of the black shadow on the woman. The under side of his arm also reinforces this angle. Other parallels appear in his vest and the collar of his jacket. The parallel positioning of their forward-stepping feet and their shadows bolster the rhythmic connection.
Value is most important for ensuring the importance of the movement. If you blur your eyes, the strength becomes more apparent. I should note the small parallels in the structure behind as well. Rothko was very thorough and these considerations are meant to be more felt than seen.
There is another series of short parallels, leading us in another direction, which provides more subtle integrations of the figures. They occur from their right feet up to the man’s right shoulder to the angle of the woman’s hat.
I haven’t forgotten the horizontal and vertical integrations and will let you discover how Rothko used them to integrate the couple with the background.
His thoroughness is wonderful.
To finish may I divert your attention to the fabulous spatial plane in the lower portion of the woman’s dress. Can you feel how the vertical rectangular shape just above her forward step comes forth? I love it.