Morris Louis



Not on display

Morris Louis 1912–1962
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 2603 × 3594 mm
Presented by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1968

Display caption

In 1953 Louis visited Helen Frankenthaler's studio and was impressed by her experiments with staining the canvas rather than painting on it. He developed this technique in works such as VAV. One of his so-called 'veil' paintings, it was made by pouring very liquid paint down its surface. In applying paint in this way Louis was reacting against Abstract Expressionist painters such as de Kooning and Kline. They had emphasised gestural brushwork as a means of personal expression. By pouring paint, Louis sought to exclude expression because the artist no longer directly controlled the marks which resulted. Also, the stained canvas no longer 'bore' a representative image. Instead it became an object in itself.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Morris Louis 1912-1962

T01057 Vav 1960

Inscribed 'M. Louis' on back of canvas, possibly not by the artist
Magna acrylic on canvas, 102 1/2 x 141 1/2 (260 x 359.5)
Presented by Mr and Mrs Henry J. Heinz II through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1968
Prov: Mr and Mrs H. J. Heinz II, New York and London (purchased from the artist's estate through the André Emmerich Gallery, New York, for presentation to the Tate)
Exh: Morris Louis: Paintings never before exhibited: 1957-60, André Emmerich Gallery, New York, March-April 1966 (works not numbered, repr. in colour on catalogue cover); Morris Louis, Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, DC, March-April 1967 (15, repr. in colour), as painted 1960-1; Morris Louis: Veils and Unfurleds, Seattle Art Museum, July-August 1967 (7, repr. in colour)
Repr: The Friends of the Tate Gallery: Annual Report 1st May 1968-30th April 1969 (London 1969), p.22; Ronald Alley, Recent American Art (London 1969), pl.14 in colour; Terry Measham, The Moderns 1945-1975 (Oxford 1976), pl. 53 in colour

One of Morris Louis' so-called 'veil' paintings produced by staining the canvas with layers of very liquid acrylic paint. It is usually dated 1960 but has also been exhibited with the date 1960-1; the exact dates of these pictures, which mostly remained unexhibited and unstretched for some years, until after the artist's death, are hard to determine.

Writing of this work and of the 'unfurled' picture 'Alpha-Phi' acquired about the same time [T01058], André Emmerich explained (20 May 1969): 'The titling of both pictures is based on the system developed posthumously under which veils are titled with Hebrew letters, unfurleds with Greek letters. The pictures are titled arbitrarily, in the order of their being stretched.

'Morris Louis was not especially interested in titling his pictures generally. He accepted the idea of titles but he was not interested himself in titling pictures until this became necessary, i.e. until pictures were sent out of the studio. When titling pictures, he generally wrote the title on the back of the canvas at the very last moment.'

The artist's widow, Mrs Marcella Louis Brenner, added (letter of 2 March 1970) that she chose to use numbers and alphabet letters in all posthumous identification of the paintings in order to avoid imposed literary or idea overtones or titles with meaningful associations. 'Vav' is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.456, reproduced p.456

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