Mark Rothko had a deep affection for Britain ever since his first trip in 1959 when he visited his friend, the artist William Scott, who introduced him to other British artists working at the time in St Ives. Two years later Bryan Robertson mounted a retrospective of his work at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. Since that time it was often said that of all the artists of the New York School it was Rothko to whom the British and particularly British artists responded most warmly. Building on this relationship Norman Reid, the then director of the Tate Gallery was able to negotiate a gift from Rothko to the Tate of nine major works know as the ‘Seagram Murals’ that, to this day, form a permanent display in the gallery.
Shortly after Mark Rothko’s tragic death in 1970 Bryan Robertson gathered together those artists who had known Rothko and held him in high regard proposing that something should be done to honour his life and work. As a result the Mark Rothko Memorial Trust was established as a registered charity with the purpose to facilitate travel bursaries for artists working in the UK to make their first trip to the USA. Funds were raised largely from the sale of a special portfolio comprising limited edition prints made by these British artists.
Past recipients of the original award include: Gerard de Thame, Adrian Wiszniewski, John Maine, Teresita Denis, Michael Ginsborg, Richard Wentworth, David Whitaker, Dan Coombs and Dinos Chapman.
In 2018 the award was re-launched in its current format as a funded artist-in-residency opportunity in collaboration with The Mark Rothko Art Centre in Daugavpils, Latvia. The award provides an opportunity for a British-based artist to travel to Latvia and reside at the art centre for one month.
Currently the Board of Trustees is chaired by Paul Huxley RA, with Tim Marlow (Chief Executive and Director of the Design Museum, London and Rebecca Salter (President of the Royal Academy of Arts London).