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Morris Louis Study Collection

Biographical History

Morris Louis was born as Morris (sometimes written as Maurice) Louis Bernstein in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912. He attended public schools, then received a scholarship to attend The Maryland Institute School of Fine and Practical Arts, graduating in 1932. He remained in the Baltimore area for several years, during which time he worked as an mural painter with the Public Works of Art project. He was also involved with the Artists' Union of Baltimore, and served as the group's president.

In 1936 Louis moved to New York, where he worked with the Easel Division of the Federal Art Project, exhibiting work at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, in the WPA Pavilion. It was during this period that he changed his name to Morris Louis.

Returning to Baltimore in the early 1940s, he married Marcella Seigel in 1947. The couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Louis became friends with artist Kenneth Noland, who introduced him to artist Helen Frankenthaler. On a visit to Frankenthaler's New York studio in 1953, Noland and Louis saw her poured acrylic stain paintings. Louis began experimenting with acrylic paints, eventually pouring paint directly onto canvas. As Douglas Frost wrote, "The new approaches pioneered by Louis and Noland in the 1950s established them as central figures in development of color-field painting. Their influence, along with others, led to a movement that came to be called the Washington Color School" (1)

Although Louis worked steadily as an artist throughout his adult life, the work for which he is known -- nearly six hundred paintings -- was done in a span of five years beginning in the late 1950s. His reputation grew with exposure from exhibitions following his death in 1962.

For a comprehensive biography of Morris Louis, see "Introduction: The Emergence of Morris Louis" (pdf file here), by Diane Upright. (2)

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the work of American painter and MICA alumnus Morris Louis (1912-1962) through publications that feature his artwork (including monographs, exhibit catalogs, survey texts, pamphlets, news items, magazine articles, advertisements, ephemera), and audio/visual materials (slides, audio recordings and video material). Much of the material was compiled after Morris Louis's death by his widow, Marcella Brenner, and, after her death, by representatives of the Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust and the Morris Louis Art Trust.

Series Listing

  • Series 1: Interviews, 1979 and n.d. Audio tapes, with corresponding digital audio files.  78 items.
  • Series 2: Publicity Files, 1958 – 2011 and n.d. Includes pamphlets, news items, magazine articles, advertisements, and ephemera, some with correspondence attached.  351 items.
  • Series 3: Artwork Documentation, n.d. Color 35mm slides, with corresponding digital image files. 346 items.
  • Series 4: Publications, 1962 – 2011. Includes monographs, exhibit catalogs, and survey texts. 225 items.
  • Series 5: Documentary video, 1986 – 2002 and n.d. Three works by Robert Pierce Productions: Morris Louis; Morris Louis: Radiant Zones; and Pictures to An Exhibition: Morris Louis Goes to Milan (circulating copies available in the Media Resources Collection); and unidentified film and audio material. 14 items.
  • Series 6: Reference Material. Transcripts of interviews corresponding to audio materials in this collection, copied from the Morris Louis Papers at the Archives of American Art; Copy of Finding Aid, Morris Louis Papers and Morris Louis Estate Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Finding Aid

Click here to view or download collection finding aid (pdf file).

Related Materials in Decker Library and Other Collections

Acknowledgements

The processing and digitization of this collection was partially funded by the Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust.

Notes

1. See Douglas Frost's MICA: Making History / Making Art (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Institute College of Art, c2010, p. 154).
2. From Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, A Catalogue Raisonné by Diane Upright (New York: Abrams, 1985, pp. 9-34). Used by permission of the author.

Image Information
Detail of photograph (mp-1920s-04-0011) from MICA Archives, showing Morris Louis with his classmates at the Maryland Institute, ca. 1929.