Morris Louis
American painter



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Morris Louis
American painter
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Date of Birth

November 28, 1912

Place of Birth

Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

Date of Death

September 07, 1962

Place of Death

Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

More about Morris Louis

lportnoff's picture


Morris Louis went from peeling potatoes at an Italian restaurant to founding his own movement, one of art history’s great reminders to follow your dreams.

His work may be in the Met now, but life wasn’t always so fancy shmancy for Morris Louis. This scrappy recluse spent the bulk of his career as a struggling artist, working odd jobs to pay for painting supplies. His parents pushed him to become a doctor like his three oh-so-perfect brothers, but Louis instead bounced around as Baltimore’s resident potato-peeler, laundry folder, window decorator, and cemetery grass-mower. Once, he tried (and failed) to sell one of his paintings for twelve bucks.

Plot twist: a Louis went for £1.5 million in 2015. Although he certainly had a savvy eye for color, I put some of it down to good old-fashioned perseverance. He painted for 8-9 hours daily, whipping up over 600 paintings from his 14x12 foot dining-room. If you’ve ever seen a Louis in real life, you might be thinking the math doesn’t add up; his canvases are really freakin’ huge. You’d be right. Many of his drippy rainbow pieces didn’t fit in his makeshift studio, so Louis had to get creative with rolling up the dry sections.

Louis didn’t leave the house much, but in 1953, he took a trip to New York to meet an artist named Helen Frankenthaler. Frankenthaler was really into the flat aesthetic and experimented with staining canvases to eliminate the fraction-of-a-millimeter depth where paint usually sits on top of the surface. Louis was impressed and squirreled her idea back to his own dining-room. Her profound influence led him to create his Veil series, which soaked unstretched canvas in diluted acrylics. He eventually destroyed about 300 of these, but it’s all part of the learning process. Fall down 300 times, get up 301, as they say.

Louis’ perseverance finally started paying off toward the end of his career. Literally - a critic buddy got him into the upscale galleries of New York and his work began to sell. (His first big splurge was a Ford Thunderbird. Treat yo’ self!) Now, Morris Louis is remembered as a pioneer of Color-Field stain-painting, a founder of the Washington Color School, a leading figure in Abstract Expressionism, and an all-around major dude in the history of modern art. A far cry from potato-peeler, if you ask me.




  1. Lewis, Jo Ann. "The Making of Morris Louis." The Washington Post. May 21, 1987. Accessed October 05, 2017.
  2. "Morris Louis: Biography." 2014. Accessed October 06, 2017.
  3. "Morris Louis." Accessed October 06, 2017.
  4. "Morris Louis." Wikipedia. September 12, 2017. Accessed October 03, 2017.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Morris Louis

Morris Louis Bernstein (November 28, 1912 – September 7, 1962), known professionally as Morris Louis, was an American painter. During the 1950s he became one of the earliest exponents of Color Field painting. While living in Washington, D.C., Louis, along with Kenneth Noland and other Washington painters, formed an art movement that is known today as the Washington Color School.

Early life and education

From 1929 to 1933, he studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts (now Maryland Institute College of Art) on a scholarship, but left shortly before completing the program. Louis worked at various odd jobs to support himself while painting, and in 1935 was president of the Baltimore Artists' Association. From 1936 to 1940, he lived in New York City and worked in the easel division of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. During this period, he knew Arshile Gorky, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jack Tworkov. He also dropped his last name.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Morris Louis.