Mark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz (September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970), was a Russian-born American painter. He is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he himself rejected this label, and even resisted classification as an "abstract painter".
Fearing that his sons were about to be drafted into the Czarist army, Jacob Rothkowitz emigrated from Russia to the United States, following the path of many other Jews who left Daugavpils in the wake of Cossack purges. These émigrés included two of Jacob's brothers, who managed to establish themselves as clothing manufacturers in Portland, Oregon, a common profession among Eastern European immigrants. Marcus remained in Russia with his mother and elder sister Sonia. They joined Jacob and the elder brothers later, arriving at Ellis Island in the winter of 1913 after 12 days at sea. Jacob's death a few months later left the family without economic support. One of Marcus’ great aunts did unskilled labor, Sonia operated a cash register, while Marcus worked in one of his uncle’s warehouses, selling newspapers to employees.
Marcus started school in the United States in 1913, quickly accelerating from third to fifth grade, and completed the secondary level with honors at Lincoln High School in Portland, in June 1921 at the age of 17. He learned his fourth language, English, and became an active member of the Jewish community center, where he proved adept at political discussions. Like his father, Rothko was passionate about such issues as workers’ rights and women's right to contraception.
He received a scholarship to Yale based on academic performance, but it has been suggested that Yale only made this offer in order to lure Rothko’s friend, Aaron Director, with a similar proposal. After one year, the scholarship ran out and Rothko took menial jobs to support his studies.
Rothko found the "WASP" Yale community to be elitist and racist. He and Aaron Director started a satirical magazine, The Yale Saturday Evening Pest, which lampooned the school’s stuffy, bourgeois attitude. Following his second year, Rothko dropped out, and did not return until he was awarded an honorary degree 46 years later.