Latvia Opens Museum Dedicated to Jewish Painter

A museum dedicated to painter Mark Rothko opens in his Latvian hometown, a century after he left and found fame in the U.S.

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A museum dedicated to painter Mark Rothko opened in his Latvian hometown Wednesday, a century after the abstract artist left and found fame and fortune in the United States.

"It's a wonderful homecoming for my father," the late artist's son, Christopher Rothko, told AFP at the opening in Daugavpils, Latvia's second largest city.

"But it's also very exciting that this is a living center center that will promote new art from the region,” he added.

Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkovitz in 1903 in the southern city -- then known as Dvinsk and in the Russian empire -- and his family fled a decade later fearing rising anti-Jewish sentiment.

"He is so much identified as an American artist, and his American experience was very important as well, but his roots were here and I'm sure it had a major part in his formation," his 48-year-old son told AFP.

Daughter Kate Rothko Prizel, 62, meanwhile recalled how the painter "would sit down with me with a map and point out where he was from and why you could no longer see Dvinsk on a map."

Rothko, who died in 1970, became a giant of the modern art world through his characteristic style -- a seemingly simple, but arresting juxtaposition of blocks of color.

Last year, a large-scale painting of his fetched $86.9 million at a New York auction, setting a record for any contemporary work of art.

That canvas -- "Orange, Red, Yellow" from 1961 -- bears some resemblance to one of the six original works that make up the centerpiece of the museum collection, all owned by the Rothko family.

The Mark Rothko Art Center, which also contains lecture rooms and spaces for artists to work on their craft and to exhibit, is housed in part of a giant Tsarist-era fort complex that was renovated at a cost of around four million euros, mostly funded by the European Union.