Tuesday 3 April 2012

Morris Louis - part 1

This is part 1 of a 2-part post on the works of American painter Morris Louis (1912 – 1962). Louis was one of the earliest exponents of Colour Field painting. Living in Washington, D.C., Louis along with Kenneth Noland and other painters formed what is known today as The Washington Colour School. 

He was born Morris Louis Bernstein in 1912 in Baltimore. From 1929 to 1933, he studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts on a scholarship, but left shortly before completing the course. He worked at various odd jobs to support himself whilst painting and in 1935 served as president of the Baltimore Artists’ Association. From 1936 to 1940 Louis lived in New York where he worked in the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. During this period, he knew Arshile Gorky, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jack Tworkov. He also dropped his last name.

He returned to Baltimore in 1940 and taught privately. In 1948 he started to use Magna acrylic paints. In 1952 he moved to Washington, D.C. There, he taught at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts and met fellow instructor Kenneth Noland (see my blog post on Noland July 2011) who became a close friend. Louis’s first solo show took place at the Workshop Center Art Gallery in 1953.

In 1953, he and Noland visited Helen Frankenthaler’s New York studio, where they saw and were greatly impressed by her stain painting Mountains and Sea (1952) (see my blog post on Frankenthaler July 2011).

Helen Frankenthaler: Mountains and Sea 1952

 On their return to Washington, Louis and Noland together experimented with various techniques of paint application. In 1954, Louis produced his mature Veil paintings, which were characterized by overlapping, superimposed layers of transparent colour poured onto and stained into sized or un-sized canvas. Here's a later painting showing the scale:

1959 Seal 
magna acrylic on canvas 257.8 x 358.1 cm

Louis’s first solo show in New York was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1957. He destroyed many of the paintings in this show but resumed work on the Veils in 1958–59. These were followed by Florals and Columns (1960), Unfurleds (1960–61), in which rivulets of more opaque, intense colour flow from both sides of large white fields—and the Stripe paintings (1961–62). Louis died in Washington, D.C., in 1962. A memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963. Major Louis exhibitions were also organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1967 and the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., in 1976.

 All works © The Estate of Morris Louis

1953 Trellis 
magna acrylic on canvas

1954 Isis 
magna acrylic on canvas 205.1 x 269.2 cm

1956 Untitled 
oil and acrylic on canvas 192.4 x 269.3 cm

1958 7 Bronze 
magna acrylic on canvas 224.8 x 320.5 cm

1958 Aurora 
magna acrylic on canvas 237 x 444.3 cm

1958 Broad Turning 
magna acrylic on canvas 230 x 384 cm

1958 Dalet Chaf 
magna acrylic on canvas 233.7 x 339.7 cm

1958 Tet 
magna acrylic on canvas 241.3 x 388.6 cm

1958-9 Beth Rash 
magna acrylic on canvas 250.2 x 360 cm

1959 Ambi IV 
magna acrylic on canvas 248.9 x 336.5 cm

1959 Beth Chaf 
magna acrylic on canvas

1959 Dalet Kaf 
magna acrylic on canvas 255.6 x 363.2 cm

1959 Dalet Tet 
magna acrylic on canvas

1959 Dalet Zayin 
magna acrylic on canvas 253.5 x 336.5 cm

1959 Faces 
magna acrylic on canvas 231.8 x 345.5 cm

1959 High 
magna acrylic on canvas

1959 Nun 
magna acrylic on canvas 205.1 x 269.2 cm

1959 Para III 
magna acrylic on canvas 243.8 x 228.6 cm

1959 Saf Aleph 
magna acrylic on canvas 247 x 355.6 cm

1959 Saf Dalet 
magna acrylic on canvas

1959 Saf 
magna acrylic on canvas 250.2 x 358.1 cm

1959 Saraband 
magna acrylic on canvas 256.9 x 378.5 cm

1959-60 Ambi 1 
magna acrylic on canvas 240.98 x 349.89 cm

1959-60 Floral V 
magna acrylic on canvas 249.9 x 350 cm

1959-60 Number 99 
magna acrylic on canvas 251.5 x 360.7 cm

1959-60 Point of Tranquility 
magna acrylic on canvas 258.2 x 344.9 cm

1960 Alpha Epsilon 
magna acrylic on canvas 269.2 x 589.3 cm


  1. Very nice collection of his paintings. Thanks for this great compilation!

  2. My first exposure to Lewis was at the Milwaukee Museum of Art in 1988...I loved it! Thanks so much for you efforts.


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