Morris Louis

United States of America  1912–1962

Morris Louis Bernstein was born on 28 November 1912 in Baltimore, Maryland, of Russian parents. He attended the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts, Baltimore, between 1927 and 1932. In 1934 he was employed by the Public Works of Art Project to assist in the painting of a mural in the library of Hampstead Hill School, and supported himself through a number of jobs until he moved to New York in 1936. There he attended the workshop of the Mexican artist David Siqueiros, experimenting with a variety of techniques and materials. He contributed to an exhibition at the American Contemporary Art Gallery, New York, in 1937, using the name 'Morris Louis'. Between 1939 and 1940 Louis was employed on the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and in 1939 exhibited work with the WPA painters at the World's Fair, New York. He returned to Baltimore for a few years in the mid-1940s before moving to Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC. Louis supported himself by teaching part-time at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts and by taking classes of private students.

In 1953 he and Kenneth Noland visited New York, where the critic Clement Greenberg took them to the studio of Helen Frankenthaler. Louis' first solo exhibition took place immediately afterwards, at the Washington Center Art Gallery, but he was already working in a new way inspired by his New York visit. These works were shown at the exhibition Emerging talent, held at the Kootz Gallery, New York. Louis continued to exhibit regularly, but in 1957 a reassessment led him to destroy most of the paintings made between 1955 and 1957. He began working on his series of Veils at this time. The first Veil was exhibited at The International art of a new era: U.S.A., Japan, Europe, in Osaka and later in Philadelphia. More were shown in his 1959 solo exhibition at French and Company, New York, organised by Greenberg. Louis rapidly moved to other series: the Florals, the Unfurleds and the Stripes. In 1960 he held solo exhibitions in New York, London, Milan and Rome. In 1961 he was included in the exhibition American Abstract Expressionists and imagists at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, then later in Greenberg’s exhibition of Post-Painterly Abstraction at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1964. Louis died in Washington DC on 7 September 1962. A retrospective of his work was held at the Musée de Grenoble in 1996.

See more works by this artist in the NGA collection

Morris Louis Beta nu 1960 © 1960 Morris Louis Purchased 1972 Learn more

Morris Louis Dalet zayin 1959 © 1959 Morris Louis Purchased 1974 Learn more