Morris Louis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    André Emmerich Gallery, New York
    Park International, New York
    Lawrence Rubin Gallery, New York
    Paul Kasmin Gallery, London
    Private Collection, Toronto

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; The St. Louis Art Museum, Morris Louis: 1912–1962, February 15 - August 6, 1967, no. 19, p. 43 (illustrated)
    Toronto, David Mirvish Gallery, Morris Louis: An Exhibition of Veils, September - October 1971
    Toronto, David Mirvish Gallery, Morris Louis, November - December 1973
    Madrid, United States Embassy, September 1983 (on extended loan)
    New York, Mnuchin Gallery, Morris Louis: Veils, September 10 - October 18, 2014, p. 32 (illustrated)
    New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Morris Louis/Landon Metz, March 3 - April 9, 2016

  • Literature

    Michael Fried, Morris Louis, New York, 1970., pl. 50 (illustrated)
    Artscanada, October - November 1971, p. 76 (illustrated)
    Diane Upright, Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1985, no. 160, pp. 80, 147 (illustrated)
    Daniel Rothbart, Jewish Metaphysics as Generative Principle in American Art, Naples, 1994, fig. 17 (illustrated)
    David Ebony, "Top 10 New York Gallery Shows for September," artnet, September 22, 2014 (online publication)
    Brook Mason, "In Colour: the Colour Field Movement's Past and Present Merge at Paul Kasmin," Wallpaper, March 4, 2016 (online publication)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "The fabric, being soaked in paint rather than merely covered by it, becomes paint in itself, color in itself....." Clement Greenberg

    Morris Louis’ gift for color can be vividly seen in Tzadik, executed in 1958. Rendered in shades of green, orange, yellow and deep red, the composition emits an enveloping, subtle glow. Tzadik is a pristine example of Louis’ carefully achieved tonalities, which range in value from heightened saturation to diluted washes. Louis thinned the Magna paint with large amounts of turpentine, allowing it to flow effortlessly over the surface of the canvas; with each layer the pigments can be seen in their purest form. Louis’ brilliant hues, stained onto pure canvas, have defined his place in the narrative of Post-War American art. After a visit to Helen Frankenthaler's studio with his friend, fellow painter Kenneth Noland, in 1953, Louis was captivated by Frankenthaler’s revolutionary staining technique. Clement Greenberg, who Louis met on the same occasion, encouraged him to expand his practice, leading to the production of his first significant series of works created between January and June of 1954. This series would come to be known as the Veil paintings and was rendered in Magna acrylic paint, which would become the artist’s exclusive medium. For Louis, the Veil paintings represented a complete artistic breakthrough; fluid waves of pigment wash over the canvas surface, as Greenberg describes how, "Louis spills his paint on unsized and unprimed cotton duck canvas, leaving the pigment almost everywhere thin enough, no matter how many different veils of it are superimposed, for the eye to sense the threadedness and wovenness of the fabric underneath. But 'underneath' is the wrong word. The fabric being soaked in paint rather than merely covered by it, becomes paint in itself, color in itself.” (Clement Greenberg quoted in Michael Fried, Morris Louis, New York, 1970)

    The present lot stands as part of Louis’ second series of Veil paintings, marking out a maturation from the initial series. In contrast to the 1954 Veils, the 1958-1959 Veils were painted in a much larger format; Louis chose to increase the proportion of width to height, elongating the rectangular form. In the earlier series, Louis utilized primed canvases, making the support not as absorbent to the poured on pigments; in the 1958–1959 Veils he has transitioned to raw canvas, allowing the paint to seep fully into the grain of the material. Initiating his Veils with swathes of bright colors, he began in 1958 to use darker, thinned washes, which coupled with the underlying brighter hues, took on a radiant and incandescent quality. The use of this darker wash resulted in a surface accented by bright flecks of pigment and granular dark areas, as seen in the present lot. “The granular particles are part of the final wash of black or umber that was used like a scrim to veil the brighter underlying colors. The dark paint was thinned so extensively with turpentine that the pigment particles became too separated to form a continuous film after the turpentine evaporated. The bright flecks of pigment, often orange, red, or yellow, remain as evidence of the difficulties Louis encountered when thinning the Magna to a consistency suitable for staining.” (Diane Upright, Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, New York, 1985, p. 49-58)

    As art historian Michael Fried comments, “Louis discovered that if successive waves of thinned pigment, each a different color, were stained into a length of canvas, what was produced was a single, visually continuous configuration within which the individual configurations left by each wave in turn – or, perhaps more accurately, the limits of these configuration – were still visible. That is by laying down wave on top of wave of liquid pigment Louis literally put color into color.” (Michael Fried, Morris Louis 1912 – 1962, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1967, p. 15)

    At the top edge of Tzadik, the bright orange, glowing yellow and more subdued green and reds can be discerned, the edge of these hues in Greenberg’s words, is not a “cutting edge” but a soft and wavy stained edge, the pigments gently seep into the raw canvas slowly dissipating. (Clement Greenberg in Morris Louis 1912 – 1962, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1967, p. 17) Tzadik demonstrates Louis’ rigorous control over his medium, guiding the acrylic to flow naturally over the canvas; his translucent Veils sweep through the composition on a seemingly monumental scale. Art historian Dean Swanson aptly describes Louis’ most famous series: “the Veils-the most complex, 'painterly' examples of Louis's mature work-reveal the expressionist core of his style. These large-scale, radiant images, consisting of broad overlays of transparent, freely applied areas of color, allude to natural processes-growth, fluidity-and natural phenomena - light, air, water." (Dean Swanson, Morris Louis: The Veil Cycle, Minneapolis, 1977, p. 6) Tzadik embodies this organic method through which the artist’s brush seems to vanish; he breathes his whole body into the creation of Veils, guided by the commanding fusion of artistic intelligence and unerring intuition.

  • Artist Biography

    Morris Louis

    Exceptionally prolific yet meticulous over the course of his all-too-brief career, Morris Louis cemented a status as one of the most important proponents of Color Field Painting and one of the leaders of the Washington Color School. Working with such figures as Kenneth Noland and Sam Gilliam, Louis pioneered a greatly simplified form of abstraction that served as a stylistic conduit between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. By pouring greatly thinned washes of paint over the surface of unprimed canvas, Louis alternately achieved luminous, cheerful ribbons of color and an eerie and ethereal effect, marked by the use of chance and the participation of atmospheric elements such as gravity in the creation of his paintings.

    Louis developed his mature style after a visit with Noland to the New York studio of Helen Frankenthaler at the suggestion of critic Clement Greenberg, where he learned of Frankenthaler’s innovative soak-stain technique. He used this method to pioneer no fewer than three major mature series that can be characterized by their atmospheric intensity, psychological presences, and crisp, pristine mellifluousness. Louis succumbed to lung cancer in 1962 and was honored the following year with a posthumous exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. He has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the High Museum, Atlanta, and the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

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signed and inscribed "m. Louis #74" on the reverse
acrylic resin (Magna) on canvas
90 1/2 x 140 1/2 in. (229.9 x 356.9 cm.)
Executed in 1958.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,630,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST