Morris Louis /   Louis Morris Bernstein

United States 1912 - 1962

Color Field, Abstract Expressionism

Morris Louis
Louis Morris Bernstein
United States
September 25, 2016
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Morris Louis was an American artist and a leading member of the Color Field painters, known for his colorful, expressive, and simplified abstract paintings. While living in Washington, D.C., Louis, along with other Washington painters, initiated an art movement known today as the Washington Color School. He also introduced new ways of applying pigment to canvas, such as pouring, staining, and overlapping swaths of acrylic color onto the surface in a flat, modern and compressed manner. His most famous works which achieved the highest prices at auctions are Veils, Stripes, and Unfurled.

Morris Louis – Untitled, 1956

Early Life and Color Field Painting

Born Louis Morris Bernstein in Baltimore in 1912, Louis studied at the Maryland Institute of Applied and Fine Arts. He then worked several jobs to support himself as a painter through the early 1930s and served as president of the Baltimore Artists’ Association in 1935. The artist moved to New York and worked for the WPA’s Federal Art Project in 1936. [1] He later returned to Baltimore to teach, before moving back to Washington, D.C., where he worked alongside fellow abstract artist Kenneth Noland and held his first solo exhibition. In 1952, he and Noland visited painter Helen Frankenthaler and were inspired by the luminous abstract works she created through staining the canvas rather than through gestural brushstrokes. Louis was also interested in the use of Magna paint – a newly developed oil based acrylic paint made by several New York painters. His curiosity about innovative techniques such as Magna paint led to the development of Color Field Painting during the 1950s. Louis Morris was a central figure of the movement, along with a group of American artists such as Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Tom Downing, Howard Mehring Anne Truitt and Hilda Thorpe. The most important point of this new movement was the simplified idea of what a finished painting should look like. Color Field Painters continued a tradition initially developed by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko – they kept eliminating history of gestural and compositional rules and focused on large areas of raw canvases. They also utilized the expressive and psychological power of flat areas, intense colors and simple, repetitive composition. Louis’ most prominent series of Color Field paintings were Unfurleds.

Louis Morris was a central figure of the Color Field Painting movement

Louis Morris – Where, 1961

Stain Painting and Mature Works

Louis was particularly impressed by Helen Frankenthaler‘s stain paintings, such as her Mountains and Sea from 1952 that he saw during Frankenthaler’s exhibition. He considered Frankenthaler’s work as the bridge between Jackson Pollock and the possible. [1] Inspired by her stain paintings and willing to create something close to her style, he started eliminating the brush gesture even more and focused on the modern use of thin pigments and their billowing and subtle tones. In 1954, Louis has finished his mature series of Veil Paintings, typical for their overlapping layers of transparent colors poured onto canvas. The Veil Paintings is a brilliant series consisting of colors and shapes submerged in transparent washes, with bold colors emerging around the edges. In his another prominent series, the artist utilized long parallel bands and stripes of pure colors arranged like a rainbow. It is interesting to mention that Louis destroyed many of his paintings between 1955 and 1957. This mysterious two-year gap was resumed in 1958 when he continued working on his Veils. This was followed by Florals and Columns from 1960 and Unfurleds from 1960–61. These mature works feature more opaque and more intense colors surrounded by white patches of raw canvas. Finally, in 1962, he created the Stripe paintings. The period between summer 1960 and winter 1961 was an extremely prolific period in the history of Louis’ works, when he created about 150 Unfurleds on large, mural-size canvases. In 2013, the large exhibition entitled Morris Louis: Unveiled was held at Baltimore Museum of Art in Maryland and it was the artist’s latest solo show in a major museum.

The Veil is a brilliant series produced by alternative painting tools – it consists of color spaces submerged in transparent washes

Morris Louis – Dalet Kaf, 1959

Great Critical Acclaim of Louis’ Work

Morris Louis has received an excellent critical acclaim for his work around the end of the 1950s. Unfortunately, he died of lung cancer in 1962, just after finishing his Unfurleds. Louis is nowadays recognized as one of the major participants in the post-war abstract American art. Most important exhibitions of Louis’ work have been held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Collection at the Smithsonian, Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and many galleries across the US. In 2015, his famous work from 1961, entitled Number 36, from the collection of Lord Anthony and Lady Evelyn Jacobs, was sold for £1.5 million at Christie’s auction in London.

The artist is represented by Acquavella Gallery.

Morris Louis lived and worked in Washington, D.C.


  1. Upright, D., Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, Harry N. Abrams, 1985
  2. Anonymous. Louis Morris Biography, Morris Louis Foundation [September 9, 2016]

Featured image: Morris Louis – Theta (Detail), 1961
All images via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Morris Louis / Landon MetzPaul Kasmin Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2016A Visit with Old Friends-Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, NMGroup
2015Winter ReviewLoretta Howard Gallery, New YorkGroup
2015The New York School, 1969, Henry Geldzahler at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkGroup
2014Openness and Clarity, Color Field Works From The 19602 and 1970sHonor Fraser, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2014Morris Louis, VeilsMnuchin Gallery, New YorkSolo
2014Rothko to Richter, Mark-Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. HaskellPrinceton University Art Museum, Princeton, New JerseyGroup
2014Gravity's EdgeHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.Group
2014Make It New, Abstract Painting From The National Gallery of Art, 1950-1975The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MassachusettsGroup
2013Morris Louis UnveiledBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MarylandSolo
2013Re-View, Onnasch CollectionHauser & Wirth, London, United KingdomGroup
2013From Wings to Fins, Morris Louis, Cyprien GaillardSprüth Magers, London, United KingdomGroup
2013Caro, Frankenthaler, Louis, Motherwell, Noland, Olitski, StellaPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkGroup
2013From Abstract Expression to Colored PlanesSeattle Art Museum, Seattle, WashingtonGroup
2013The Sixties in the Guggenheim Collections. Besides the Informal, Toward the Pop ArtPeggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, ItalyGroup
2013Washington Art Matters, 1940s-1980sAmerican University Museum, Washington D.C.Group
2012Abstract Expressionism, The National Gallery of Australia Celebrates the Centenary of Jackson PollockThe National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, AustraliaGroup
2012Sarah Braman, Daniel Buren, Sam Falls, Mary Heilmann, Morris Louis, Kyle ThurmanEleven Rivington, New YorkGroup
2012Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Frank StellaMitchell-Innes & Nash, New YorkGroup
2011Color in Flux, Exhibition on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the WeserburgWeserburg Museum of Modern Art, Bremen, GermanyGroup
2011Silence and TimeDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TexasGroup
2011The Abstract AutographKemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MissouriGroup
2011Twentieth-Century Art, The Second HalfTel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, IsraelGroup
2011Art at the Origin, The Early SixtiesThe Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MassachusettsGroup
2011Morris LouisThe Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.Solo
2010Color FieldsDeutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2010The Spiritual in Art – From The Blue Rider to Abstract ExpressionismMuseum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden, GermanyGroup
2010Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Colour in ArtDenmark, HumlebækGroup
2010Process, AbstractionPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkGroup
2010Painting, Process and Expansion, From the 1950s till nowMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, MUMOK, Vienna, AustriaGroup
2010Washington Color and LightCorcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Group
2009The Washington Color PaintersAcademy Art Museum, Easton, MarylandGroup
2009SyntheticWhitney Museum of American Art, New YorkGroup
2009Modern MastersMuseum of Contemporary Art San Diego Downtown, San Diego, CaliforniaGroup
2009Conversations in Lyrical Abstraction, 1958 - 2009Conner Contemporary, Washington, D.C.Group
2008Action PaintingFondation Beyeler, Basel, SwitzerlandGroup
2008Morris LouisKawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Chiba, JapanSolo
2008Action, Abstraction, Pollock, De Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976Jewish Museum, New YorkGroup
2008Turning Point, The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American ArtBrigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, UtahSolo
2007Who s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? Positions in Color Field PaintingStaatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, GermanyGroup
2007Morris Louis Kenneth Noland, Colorfield Painting (1954-63)El Sourdog Hex, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2007Color as Field, American Painting, 1950-75Denver Art Museum, Denver, ColoradoGroup
2007Full Color, Painting and Sculpture from 1900-1980Paul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkGroup
2007Morris Louis, PaintingsPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkSolo
2007Abstract Expressionism and Other Modern Works, The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of ArtMetropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkGroup
2007Breaking the Mold, Selections from the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, 1961-1968Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OklahomaGroup
2007Lyrical Color, Morris Louis, Gene Davis, Kenneth Noland and the Washington Color SchoolThe Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.Group
2007Generations of the Washington Color School RevisitedLuther W. Brady Gallery, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.Group
2006Morris Louis Now, An American Master RevisitedHigh Museum of Art, Atlanta, GeorgiaSolo
2006A New Age, American Painting from the 1950s and 1960sUlster Museum, Belfast, Northern IrelandGroup
2006Fast Forward, Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of ArtDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TexasGroup
2006Faster. Bigger. Better. Signalwerke der SammlungenMNK Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, GermanyGroup
2006Art & Context, The 50s and 60sMuseum of Art, Washington State University, Pullman, WashingtonGroup
2005The Shape of Colour, Excursions in Colour Field Art, 1950-2005The Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, CanadaGroup
2004Color Field Revisited, Paintings from the Albright-Knox GalleryHaggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WisconsinGroup
2004Morris Louis, Veil PaintingsLannan Foundation, Santa Fe, New MexicoSolo
2004The French & Co. Show of 1960, Originally Curated by Clement Greenberg, RevisitedRiva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, New MexicoSolo
2003Morris LouisPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkSolo
2001Morris Louis, Six Paintings From 1958-1962Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaSolo
2001Morris LouisPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkSolo
2001Kasmin s SixtiesPaul Kasmin Gallery, New YorkGroup
2001Morris Louis, Major Paintings 1953-1962Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, ArizonaSolo
2001Morris Louis, On PaperConner Contemporary Art, Washington, DCSolo
2000Collection Highlights, Color Field PaintingMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, MassachusettsGroup
2000Morris LouisBernard Jacobson Gallery, London, United KingdomSolo
2000OutlookBernard Jacobson Gallery, London, United KingdomGroup
1999Morris Louis, Major ThemesAmeringer, Howard Fine Art, New YorkSolo
1999Contemporary American Masters, The 1960 sNassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New YorkGroup
1997Morris Louis, The Charred Journal Series, 1951The Jewish Museum, New YorkSolo
1997Morris Louis, A Selection of Paintings 1958-1961Andre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1996Morris LouisMusée de Grenoble, Grenoble, FranceSolo
1995Degrees of Abstraction, From Morris Louis to MapplethorpeMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, MassachusettsGroup
1995Variations on a Theme-1960Andre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1993Morris LouisLocks Gallery, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaSolo
1992Morris Louis, Veils and VariationsAndré Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1992Contemporary American Painting & SculptureU.S. State Department, Art in Embassies, United States Ambassador s residence, Tel Aviv, IsraelGroup
1991Morris LouisGalerie Neuendorf, Frankfurt, GermanySolo
1990Morris Louis, DipinitiPadiglione d Arte Contemporanea, Milan, ItalySolo
1990Washington Color Painters, The First GenerationOrlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FloridaGroup
1989Morris LouisMaryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, MarylandSolo
1989America, Art 20 1989Basel Art Fair, Basel, SwitzerlandGroup
1988Selected WorksAndre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkGroup
1988Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture, Selections for the Tenth Anniversary of the East BuildingNational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Group
1987UnknownHokin Gallery, Bay Harbor, FloridaGroup
1987Morris LouisLannan Museum , Lake North, FloridaSolo
1986Morris Louis in BostonMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, MassachusettsSolo
1986An American Renaissance, Painting and Sculpture Since 1940The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, FloridaGroup
1985American Abstract PaintingMargo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1985Morris Louis, Drawings 1948–1953Andre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1984350 Years of Art & Architecture in MarylandThe Art Gallery, University of Maryland, College Park, MarylandGroup
1984Arte Contemporaneo Norteamericano, Coleccion David MirvishAmerican Embassy, Madrid, SpainGroup
1983Works by Important Contemporary MastersHeath Gallery, Atlanta, GeorgiaGroup
1983Morris Louis, VeilsM. Knoedler & Co., New YorkSolo
1982Morris Louis 1912–1962, A Commemorative ExhibitionAndre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1982UnknownOklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City, OklahomaGroup
1981Assoziationen zu BlauGimpel-Hanover and Andre Emmerich galleries, ZurichGroup
1981Morris Louis, Column Paintings, 1960Galerie Andre Emmerich, ZurichSolo
1980The Washington Color School Revisited—The SixtiesFredrick Gallery, Washington, D.C.Group
1980Morris Louis PaintingsEdwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, KansasSolo
1970Color Abstractions, Selections from the Museum of Fine Arts, BostonFederal Reserve Bank of Boston Display Area, BostonGroup
1970Andre Emmerich Presents Paintings by Morris LouisAsher, Faure Gallery, Los AngelesSolo
1969Morris LouisWaddington Galleries, LondonSolo
1969American Art in St. LouisThe St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MissouriGroup
1968Documenta IVKassel, GermanyGroup
1968Morris LouisAndre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1967Morris Louis, A Group of Paintings of the Late Spring of 1960Andre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1967Kompass IIIStedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the NetherlandsGroup
1966Fifty Years of Modern ArtThe Cleveland Museum of Art, ClevelandGroup
1966Morris Louis, Paintings Never Before Exhibited, 1957–1960Andre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1965Morris LouisStedelijk Museum, AmsterdamSolo
1965Twentieth Century ArtGreenwich Public Library, Greenwich, ConnecticutGroup
1964Selected Paintings from the James A. Michener Foundation CollectionArt Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, AustraliaGroup
1964Morris Louis, A Selection from a Series of Previously Not Exhibited Paintings, 1960–1961Andre Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1963Morris Louis, Paintings 1960–62Kasmin Ltd., LondonSolo
1963Major Paintings from the Everett Ellin Gallery CollectionEverett Ellin Gallery, Los AngelesGroup
1962Morris LouisGalerie Schmela, Dusseldorf, GermanySolo
1962The James A. Michener Collection of Twentieth Century American PaintingsArkansas Art Center, Little RockGroup
1961Group ExhibitionAmerican Embassy, LondonGroup
1961Morris LouisGalerie Neufville, ParisSolo
1960Morris LouisBennington College, Bennington, VermontSolo
1959Morris LouisFrench & Company, New YorkSolo
1959Summer Gallery ExhibitionFrench & Company, New YorkGroup
1958The Baltimore Collectors ExhibitionBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group
1957Contemporary American PaintersBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group
1957Morris LouisMartha Jackson Gallery, New YorkSolo
1956Contemporary Artists GroupBarnett Aden Gallery, Washington, D.C.Group
195522 Washington ArtistsCatholic University Art Gallery, Washington, D.C.Group
1955Morris LouisWorkshop Center of the Arts, Washington, D.C.Solo
1954Emerging TalentKootz Gallery, New YorkGroup
1953Staff ExhibitionWorkshop Center of the Arts, Washington, D.C.Group
1953Morris LouisWorkshop Art Center Gallery, Washington, D.C.Solo
1952Maryland Artists, 20th Annual ExhibitionBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group
1950Maryland Artists, 18th Annual ExhibitionBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group
1949Maryland Artists, 17th Annual ExhibitionBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group
1948Maryland Artists, 16th Annual ExhibitionBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group
1939W.P.A. Pavilion, World s Fair New YorkGroup
1937Fifth Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture by Maryland ArtistsBaltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Group