David Levine has a fascinating story recapping his father’s role in the Rothko Estate and its subsequent lawsuits, Josh Baer endorsed the post to his subscribers. The multimedia post on Triple Canopy is much better than any excerpt but this gives you some idea of the content:
Rothko died with his market value climbing and with 798 finished paintings in his studio. He left practically everything to the Mark Rothko Foundation and nothing to his children. He named his three closest friends—my father, Stamos, a fellow painter, and Bernard Reis, his accountant—as his executors. Within three months, the executors, who were also the foundation’s directors, had sold or consigned the entire stock of paintings to Marlborough Fine Art at a drastic discount. In 1971, Kate’s guardian, Ferber, began legal proceedings on her behalf, to have the paintings returned and the executors removed for “conspiring to waste the assets of the estate.” Within two years my father had lost his job and his marriage. Within three years “The Matter of Rothko” had become the biggest scandal the New York art world had ever seen. Within five years my father was fined $6 million for his role in the affair, and within ten he was dead. The lawyers hounded his second wife, attempting to reach him beyond the grave, demanding to know whether she still possessed “any Rothkos.” […]
The petitioners’ suit was as follows: Three months after Rothko’s death, the executors sold one hundred top paintings to Marlborough at rock-bottom prices, roughly $12,000 apiece, when they were going for upward of $50,000 on the open market. They then consigned the rest to Marlborough, with the gallery receiving half of each sale. While their haste could be excused as the alacrity of executors eager to fulfill their obligations to the estate, it was suspicious that just five weeks after Rothko’s death, Reis was named a director of Marlborough, and just a year after the bulk sale, Stamos joined the Marlborough stable of artists. By the time the suit was filed, on November 8, 1971, Marlborough had already sold thirty-six of the estate’s canvases for as much as $180,000 per painting, at a total profit of $2,474,250. The executors thus stood accused of “self-dealing” and, along with Marlborough, of conspiring to defraud and “waste the assets of” the estate.
Matter of Rothko (Triple Canopy)