The Morris Louis and Morris Louis Estate papers measure 17.8 linear feet and date from circa 1912-2007, with the bulk of the material dating from 1965-2000. The collection documents Morris Louis' career as a Color Field painter and founding participant in the Washington Color School, as well as the subsequent administration of his estate by his wife Marcella Brenner. Found within Morris Louis' papers are biographical materials, correspondence, photographs, scattered financial records, notes, writings, printed materials, and a canvas sample. The Morris Louis Estate papers include records of gallery exhibitions, mostly André Emmerich Gallery; artwork inventories; legal records concerning the lawsuit Bernstein v. Brenner; financial records of the sale of Louis' artwork; printed materials; writings about Louis; photographs of exhibition installations and artwork; and project files which include documentation of film projects by Robert Pierce Productions, a catalog raisonne, documentation of PBS documentaries, video recordings of the exhibition "Morris Louis Now", and numerous sound recordings of interviews with artists discussing Morris Louis conducted by Anita Faatz.
Scope and Contents:
The Morris Louis and Morris Louis Estate papers measure 17.8 linear feet and date from circa 1912-2007, with the bulk of the material dating from 1965-2000. The collection documents Morris Louis' career as a Color Field painter and founding participant in the Washington Color School, as well as the subsequent administration of his estate by his wife Marcella Brenner. Found within Morris Louis' papers are biographical materials, correspondence, photographs, scattered financial records, notes, writings, printed materials, and a canvas sample. The Morris Louis Estate papers include records of gallery exhibitions, mostly André Emmerich Gallery; artwork inventories; legal records concerning the lawsuit Bernstein v. Brenner; financial records of the sale of Louis' artwork; printed materials; writings about Louis; photographs of exhibition installations and artwork; and posthumous project files which include documentation of film projects by Robert Pierce Productions, a catalog raisonne, PBS documentaries, video recordings of the exhibition "Morris Louis Now", and numerous sound recordings of interviews with artists, many with transcripts, discussing Morris Louis and conducted by Anita Faatz.
Within the Morris Louis papers (circa 3 linear feet) are scattered biographical materials for Morris Louis and Marcella Brenner. Correspondence is with family friends, artists, and galleries, the bulk of which consists of photocopies. Of note are letters from Helen Frankenthaler, Clement Greenberg, Leonard Bocour, Kenneth Noland, and Anne Truitt. Business records include lists of artwork, receipts for art supplies, and scattered tax records. Six notebooks belonging to Morris Louis contain miscellaneous notes about students, studio rental payments, addresses, travel expenses, and a short list of paintings. There is one notebook of Marcella Brenner's containing notes about expenses and addresses. Also found are printed materials, one canvas sample, and one embossing stamp. Photographs are of Morris Louis, Marcella Brenner, and the Bernstein family.
The majority of the collection (circa 15 linear feet) consists of records created and maintained by Marcella Brenner in the course of managing Louis' estate and posthumous exhibitions and projects. There are numerous gallery exhibition records for many posthumous and retrospective exhibitions between 1965 through 2002, including those held at the Andre Emmerich Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum, and numerous other U.S. and international galleries and museums. Louis' artwork is documented in highly detailed inventory lists and cards. Legal records document the lawsuit brought by the Bernstein family against Marcella Brenner which began in 1964 and ended in 1970 in favor of Brenner. Financial records document sales.
Printed materials include clippings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, and other miscellaneous materials. Writings include essays about Louis and manuscript copies of the book Trustee for the Human Race: Litigation over the Morris Louis Paintings written by Ruth S. Blau under contract for Marcella Brenner. Photographs are primarily of artwork depicted in exhibition installations. Project files are found for several posthumous documentary film projects and a catalog raisonne, and include a series of audio recordings of interviews of 27 artists conducted by Anita Faatz in 1970-1971. Artists interviewed include Clement Greenberg, Leonard Bocour, Andre Emmerich, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and many others.
This collection is arranged as 2 series.
Series 1: Morris Louis Papers, circa 1910s-1998 (2.9 linear feet; Boxes 1-3)
Series 2: Morris Louis Estate Papers, 1947-2007 (14.9 linear feet; Boxes 3-19, OV 20)
Biographical / Historical:
Morris Louis (1912-1962) was one of the earliest American Color Field painters, and, along with other Washington, D.C., painters, formed the movement known as the Washington Color School.
Born in Baltimore, M.D., to Russian immigrants Louis Bernstein and Cecelia Luckman, Morris Louis attended the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts from 1927-1932 and served as president of the Baltimore Artists' Association in 1935. During the Depression, he worked in New York City on the steering committee of the Easel Division of the Federal Arts Projects of the Works Project Administration (WPA). He exhibited Broken Bridge at the WPA Pavilion of the New York World's Fair in 1939.
In 1947, Louis married Marcella (Siegel) Brenner, and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, a close suburb of Washington, D.C., where he taught private art classes and continued painting, using his apartment bedroom as a studio. In 1948, Louis participated in the Maryland Artists, 16th Annual Exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and began using Leonard Bocour's Magna acrylic paint, which he would use exclusively for the rest of his painting career.
In 1952, Morris Louis and Marcella Brenner moved to Washington, D.C. and set up a studio in his home where he would complete his most notable canvases. He began teaching at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts and met artist Kenneth Noland who was also exploring Color Field painting. Through Noland, Louis met art critic Clement Greenberg in 1953, and they visited artist studios in New York City to study abstract expressionist works, including those by Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline. Louis and Noland were greatly influenced by Frankenthaler's staining technique, and Louis began experimenting with staining methods upon his return to Washington. Clement Greenberg became a life-long advocate for Louis and, in 1954, included Louis in the seminal group exhibition, "Emerging Talent," organized by Greenberg for the Kootz Gallery. In 1960, Andre Emmerich became his dealer in the United States and Lawrence Rubin represented him in Paris.
Using thinned Magna paint and unstretched, unprimed canvases, Louis created his works by rotating the canvas as the paint moved across and soaked in. Between 1958 and 1962 Louis produced three major series of paintings—the Veils, the Unfurleds, and the Stripes. Each series numbered more than one hundred canvases. Louis never documented his exact painting methods and would not allow anyone to watch him work, including his wife. His own worst critic, Louis destroyed many of his paintings that did meet his standards, including a large number of his earliest works and many created between 1954 and 1957. He also designated numerous surviving works for destruction prior to his death.
Louis was diagnosed with lung cancer on July 1, 1962 and died a few months later. The Andre Emmerich Gallery held a previously scheduled exhibition as planned, a month following Louis' death, as a memorial exhibition.
Also found at the Archives of American Art are the Marcella Brenner journals, 1962-2000. The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) also holds papers of Morris Louis and the Morris Louis Estate in their Morris Louis Study Collection.
The Morris Louis and Morris Louis Estate papers were donated by Marcella Brenner in several installments in 1976, 1986, and 1988. Subsequent donations in 2009 and 2012 were donated by Marcella Brenner via Ann M. Garfinkle, Executor. The Anita Faatz interviews were donated in 1976 by Marcella Brenner.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. Research Center. Many of the audio recordings and transcripts of interviews with 26 artists conducted by Anita Faatz in 1970-1971 are access restricted and written permission is required from the person interviewed. Please contact reference services for more information. Any use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
The Morris Louis and Morris Louis Estate papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.