7 March 2022
Mark Rothko with No. 7, 1960 in his studio. Photograph attributed to Regina Bogat
Rothko vs Marlborough - The Court Case that Shook the New York Art World in the 1970s
Mark Rothko’s suicide in February 1970 sparked the first great art scandal of the modern era in the New York and international art world.
Immediately on Rothko’s death, his financial advisor Bernard Reis and his co-executors under the will made contracts to dispose of the Estate’s holdings to his new art dealer, Frank Lloyd of the Marlborough galleries (London, New York, Rome) – in haste, exclusively, and on unfavorable terms.
It was only when Rothko’s young daughter, Kate, came of age two years after her father’s death, that she could press charges against the executors for their faithless and conflicted actions.
The legal proceedings included a protracted and circus-like trial, with nine sets of antagonistic lawyers, multiple appeals and a cloak-and-dagger “rescue” of the paintings secretly shipped out of the country by Marlborough.
Jim Peterson was a first-year lawyer when assigned as the junior member of Kate Rothko’s legal team. He was involved in every aspect of the legal proceedings, and is one of the few still alive to tell the story of the Rothko Estate based on first-hand personal experience.
M. Rothko, Magenta, Black, Green, on Orange, 1949, New York, MoMA
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