In response to a harsh critique of the Syrian Bull by a journalist, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko wrote a letter which contains the sentence:

We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal.

For the complete letter and more context, I refer to the following webpage which contains it as a picture.

Ever since this sentence was written, the two words "large shapes" (in German: "große Formen") became a trademark in the description of Rothko's art by art historians - and, indeed, his mature works ressemble this description very much.

Breslin in his Rothko biography builds a few pages on this topos. Except this, his book also contains the cited letter in print. Hence, you can find a German translation of it in Elisabeth Schneider's translation of Breslin's book, in case you speak German and need inspiration for a possible Chinese translation. (Unfortunately, I don't have Schneider's translation of Breslin's book at hand right now, otherwise I would include a photo of the relevant page.)

That being said: My own German translation of this sentence produced without looking at Schneider's "solution" would be:

Wir bevorzugen große Formen, weil sie den Einfluss des Unzweideutigen haben.

According to Douban, Breslin's book was never translated to Chinese. Hence, I cannot hope for an official translation of this sentence. (If it still exists somewhere, even better!) But, I can hope for an official translation of "large shapes" as Chinese art historians might use this term in their writings about Rothko's paintings as well.

Preliminary suggestions on a possible translation which do not have to be adopted by the potential answerer:

I would translate "large shapes" a 大形式. Further, I would tanslate "unequivocal" as 没歧义 in concordance with my previous investigations on this site but that migth be biased. The German "bevorzugen", I would translate as 更喜欢 which might be naive and only a reflection of my limited knowledge of the Chinese language. I would translate "impact" as 影响.

The total Chinese translation then would be: 我们更喜欢大形式,因为它有没歧义的影响。

PS. I'm happy with @r13 's translation, but for the sake of completeness, and to "close the case" in my online questions history, I would like to include now as it's available to me a picture of the relevant page in Schneider's German translation of Breslin's biography into my post: Breslin

4 Answers 4


We are for the large shape (大形式) because it has the impact (影响) of the unequivocal (明确的).

  • 我們更"支持"/"注重"大形式因為它有着明确的影响.

Note, I think "for" needs a better interpretation.


I took each sentence of Point 4 from the letter and translated what I think they meant:
The exact meaning of sub-point 3. is not too clear to me, I reformulated and then translated!

1. We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. 

2. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. 
3. We wish to reassert the picture plane. (We wish to reassert the value of the flat painting-canvas.)
4. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.

English to German:

We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal.
Wir ziehen die große Form vor, weil sie die Wirkung der Eindeutigkeit hat.

They said, or wrote,

"We refuse to defend them because we cannot."

Then they went ahead and defended them anyway! Artists!


In art, we say 张力, not 影响:



I found a 知乎 post which makes reference to Rothko and Gottlieb's letter: here

The slogan is translated there as:


I'm very unsure what is more common sense in Chinese art history: either 大形式 or 大形状 for "large shape".

If you know more, please comment below!👇

For what's worth it: ChatGPT favors for 大形状.

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