Document Type


Publication Date



Johns Hopkins University Press


Jewish identity increasingly figures in new histories of modernism in general, analyses of American art, and, recently, abstract expressionism.1 Although abstract paintings have signified “Jewishness” only since the late sixties, this essay looks at the antecedents of such re-identification in one canonical figure, Mark Rothko, examining three paintings from a narrow range of time in the early days of World War II. His Antigone of 1940 (Figure 1) remains one of his most familiar paintings from the formative period spanning 1940 to mid-1943. It is one of a small handful of works canonized from his early production: paintings that traditionally stand as emblems of his interest in myth and tragedy and as precursors to his later surrealist works of the mid-forties. The product of a sudden shift in subject and style, this abrupt change bestows on Antigone an originary status that repeatedly draws the attention of scholars, although not necessarily awareness of traces of Jewishness.


Copyright © 2007 The American Jewish Historical Society. This article first appeared in AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY, Volume 92, Issue 4, December, 2004, pages 401-436.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.