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Green Thought

Morris Louis (American, 1912–1962)


Medium acrylic resin on canvas Measurements H: 91 1/4 x W: 134 5/8 x D: 1 5/8 in. (231.77 x 341.95 x 4.13 cm) Credit A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund and gift of Marcella Louis Brenner Accession Number 95.15 Location Not on View


Morris Louis might be described as a transitional figure between 1950s Abstract Expressionism and 1960s Minimalism. Louis's historical significance derives from his development of stain painting, which originated with Jackson Pollock's work and was extended by such artists as Mark Rothko and, especially, Helen Frankenthaler. Louis himself dated his artistic maturation to a visit he made in 1953 with his friend Kenneth Noland to Frankenthaler's studio, where he saw her early stain pictures. Louis and Noland both left determined to break down their previous assumptions about painting. Scholars have assigned names to various groups of Louis's abstract images. This picture is from the "veils" series executed in 1958 and 1959. Its thinned-out wash of dark green paint on unprimed canvas is typical of Louis's work, but the relative opacity of the color distinguishes this painting. Compositionally, he has filled the canvas with the poured image, which is layered as if to create an allusion to an expansive landscape. Green Thought is one of only a few paintings that Louis titled, and it is an especially atmospheric example of his stain technique. Building on the work of the Abstract Expressionists, stain painters moved further towards eliminating the artist's personal contact with the work, whether physical contact with a brush or creative expression of the unconscious. This pointed to the impersonality of Minimalist art. To this end, Louis often used acrylic, a plastic-based paint, the smooth surface of which worked to eliminate a sense of the artist's tactile contact with the painting, unlike the agitated surfaces of the Abstract Expressionists' work that reveal traces of the artist's hand.