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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Green and Maroon Mark Rothko

James C. Harris, MD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(2):107-108. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2711.
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On the morning of February 25, 1970, at 66 years old, Mark Rothko was found dead in his studio by his assistant. The autopsy report was consistent with an overdose of the antidepressant Sinequan (doxepin hydrochloride), but his death resulted from exsanguination from deep cuts into both antecubital fossae, one nearly completely severing his right brachial artery. He had neatly placed his trousers on a nearby chair, but he left no suicide note. Rothko (1903-1970), one of America’s leading abstract expressionists (although he denied this designation), was at the peak of his career and his work had received international recognition. Although Rothko remained creative and continued to paint until the end of his life, he was increasingly demoralized and despaired over his failing health following treatment for a dissecting aortic aneurysm. The autopsy documented severe emphysema and advanced heart disease.1 He viewed constant pressure to commercialize his art as a threat to his integrity. His biographer believes that Rothko’s decision to kill himself was a last effort to maintain “some sense of dignity and control.”1(p543)


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