It’s so easy to think of famous artists as having been all and only and always about their most famous work—as though Vermeer had been born with cameras for eyes or the toddler Pollock was scribbling. (Oh wait, I guess he was.) A new show called "Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940 - 1950", at the art museum in Columbia, South Carolina, shows that the great abstractionist began his career with good-enough figuration. Or maybe it was better than that: Although it took Rothko 10 years to achieve his signature colored-block manner, you can see the roots of that greatness in the strange pictures that came before. This Web gallery, of pictures on loan to Columbia from the National Gallery of Art, lets us watch as Rothko grows up as a painter.
— Blake Gopnik