LOUIS, MORRIS (1912–1962), U.S. painter. Dubbed a post-painterly abstract artist and a Washington color painter, Morris Louis Bernstein, who changed his name in 1938, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After studying at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts in Baltimore (1929–32), he worked as a Works Progress Administration artist in Baltimore (1934) and then in New York City, where he lived from 1936 to 1940. He returned to Baltimore in the early 1940s and lived in Washington, D.C., from 1952 until his premature death. Early on he made allover compositions in the vein of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and experimented with collage. His biomorphic Charred Journal paintings (1951) referred to the Nazi book burnings.

After seeing Helen *Frankenthaler's seminal painting Mountains and Sea (1952, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) in April 1953, Louis changed his working method. Influenced by Frankenthaler's thin veils of color staining the unprimed canvas, Louis began to saturate his paintings in three major series: Veils (1954, 1958–59), Unfurleds (1960–61), and Stripes (1961–62). Interwoven colors characterize Veil paintings such as Blue Veil (1958, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge). To make these large works, Louis poured diluted paint down the angled canvas to create a wavelike effect of blended, layered color that covers nearly the entire surface of the work. In contrast to Pollock, Louis achieved a sense of painterliness without touching a paintbrush. Unfurled paintings such as Beta Kappa (1961, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) show colorful thin rivulets of paint running diagonally down and inward from the top corners of the canvas leaving large central portions of the painting white. Straight bands of color, varying in thickness and arranged horizontally or vertically across the white canvas, characterize the Stripe paintings. In all of these works Louis emphasized the flat ground, eschewing illusions of depth.


M. Fried, Morris Louis (1970); M. Louis, The Drawings of Morris Louis (1979); D. Upright, Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, A Catalogue Raisonné (1985); J. Elderfield, Morris Louis (1986).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.