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Baltimore Museum of Art receives major gift of works by artist Morris Louis
Morris Louis, Silver III. 1953. BMA 2011.183. Photo: Courtesy Marcella Louis Brenner.

BALTIMORE, MD.- The Baltimore Museum of Art announced today that it has recently acquired 21 works by Baltimore-born artist Morris Louis, including the landmark paintings Silver III, 1953, and Untitled 5-76, 1956, and 19 ink drawings. The works are a gift of the estate of the artist’s widow, Marcella Louis Brenner. The Louis works are among 2,185 gifts of art that have been added to the BMA’s collection as part of the ongoing In New Light Campaign, the largest philanthropic effort in the Museum’s history.

The Museum will debut one of the newly gifted paintings when it reopens its renovated and reinstalled Contemporary Wing. The BMA’s complete collection of Morris Louis works will be presented in an exhibition at the museum in Fall 2013, thanks to a grant from the Morris Louis Art Trust. The grant will also support new scholarship on Louis’ work by Antonia Pocock, Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Fine Art, New York University.

“We are deeply grateful to Marcella Brenner for this remarkable gift and for supporting an upcoming exhibition of Louis’ work at the BMA,” said BMA Director Doreen Bolger. “These masterworks by Morris Louis, along with the thousands of other gifts of art from our many generous donors, strengthen our collection immensely, and help us explore new stories about the history of art that we can share with our visitors. That story will become all the more engaging in our renovated contemporary wing and across the museum as we reshape our galleries and the visitor experience in coming years.”

Morris Louis (1912 – 1962) is the best-known artist of the Washington Color School, a group of mid-20th century painters who explored the language of abstraction using new materials and a focus on color. An early and influential pioneer of Color Field painting, Louis gained renown for his innovative method of staining raw canvases with washes of pigment to create vibrant, large-scale works. Born in Baltimore and a graduate of what is now known as the Maryland Institute College of Art, Louis has a long history with the BMA, having exhibited in the museum’s annual Maryland artist exhibitions four times in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and having served on the BMA’s advisory artists’ committee.

The two newly gifted Louis paintings are rare works from a pivotal period in Louis’ career, when he experimented with a more gestural and lushly painted approach than he employed to create his celebrated “veil” paintings. Those works, which Louis began making in 1954, feature overlapping layers of ethereal color created by pouring thinned Magna acrylic paint directly onto unprimed and unstretched canvas.

Silver III, 1953, a large-scale work of painterly abstraction with silver and red coloration and an application of paint that is varied and multidirectional, offers insight into the months leading up to the “veil” works, when Louis was experimenting with different kinds of paint and ways of applying it. Untitled 5-76, 1956, is a rare work from a period when Louis temporarily set aside his “veil” images to explore an exuberant palette and method of painting. A monumental painting with a palette of yellow, blue, and purple and a gestural application of paint that reflects the artist’s hand, the work is one of only approximately a dozen surviving paintings from this period in Louis’ career.

Mrs. Brenner’s gift also includes a group of 19 drawings made between 1948 and 1953. These spontaneous and playful figurative forms represent a lesser known part of Louis’ practice. The new acquisitions join three Louis paintings in the BMA’s collection: Dalet Beth, 1958, a “veil” painting donated to the BMA by Mrs. Brenner in 1991, as well as Number 3-05, 1960, and Number 1-65, c. 1962.

In a New Light is the most ambitious philanthropic campaign in the BMA’s history with six key fundraising areas: Endowment, Immediate Impact, Capital, Annual Fund, Planned Gifts, and Gifts of Art. Since launching the leadership phase of the campaign in 2008, the BMA has received commitments of more than $60 million, including the two largest individual gifts in the Museum’s history.

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