Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tate 'lost out' on Rothko works

Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1970, at the age of 66

The Tate missed the chance to own 30 works by Mark Rothko, which would today be worth about $1bn (630m), according to newly unearthed memoirs.

In the late 1960s, the abstract artist was in talks with the Tate's director, Sir Norman Reid, about giving 30 works to the London gallery.

Rothko "touched on the possibility of giving all the paintings to the Tate," the late Sir Norman wrote in a note.

But the gallery was unable to commit to displaying all 30 works permanently.

"My trustees thought this would raise considerable problems so we stayed with the idea of a single room," Sir Norman wrote.

Nine paintings are now on permanent display in the Tate Modern's Rothko Room.

According to The Art Newspaper, which investigated Sir Norman's archives, the estimated value of all 30 paintings would now be in excess of $1bn (630m).

'Generous gift'

"In the very early stages of the discussions, Rothko considered offering a large group of up to 32 paintings to the Gallery," a Tate spokesman said on Wednesday.

"It was made clear to the artist, however, that due to space constraints, the Gallery could never commit to exhibit in perpetuity the whole of the gift.

"The discussions quickly moved on to a focused gift of nine paintings.

"This was by far the most generous gift made by Mark Rothko to any gallery in Europe or America during his lifetime," the Tate spokesman added.

In May 2007, a Rothko fetched $73m (45.7m) at Sotheby's auction house.

However, Sir Norman's memoirs reveal that the artist was insecure about his legacy.

"He kept expressing doubts about whether his pictures would be appreciated in London," he wrote.

"In particular, he seemed concerned that the young artists might feel antagonistic towards them."

The artist committed suicide in 1970 at the age of 66, after years of ill health and continuing doubts over the impact of his life's work.

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