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Morris Louis (1912-1962)
Property from the Morris Louis Art Trust
Morris Louis (1912-1962)

Hot Half

Details
Morris Louis (1912-1962)
Hot Half
acrylic on resin on canvas
63 1/8 x 63 1/8 in. (160.3 x 160.3 cm.)
Painted in 1962.
Provenance
Estate of the artist
Literature
D. Robbins, "Morris Louis at the Juncture of Two Traditions," Quadrum, no. 18, 1965, p. 51 (illustrated in color).
M. Fried, "The Achievement of Morris Louis," Artforum, February 1967, p. 39 (illustrated).
J. Coplans, Serial Imagery, Pasadena, 1968, p. 76 (illustrated).
A. Hudson, Ten Washington Artists: 1950-1970, Edmonton, 1970, p. 43 (illustrated).
M. Fried, Morris Louis, New York, 1970, pl. 11 (illustrated in color).
E.A. Carmean, Jr., "A Possible Reversion in Morris Louis' Work," Arts Magazine, vol. 50, April 1976, pp. 69-75.
D. Headley (Upright), "Morris Louis: Disposing of the Diagonal," Arts Magazine, vol. 50, April 1976, p. 74 (illustrated).
D. Upright, Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, New York, 1985, pp. 191 and 242, no. 653 (illustrated in color).
M. Fried, Art and Objecthood, Chicago, 1998, pl. 16 (illustrated in color).
R. Shiff, Donald Judd, exh. cat., New York, PaceWildenstein, 2002.$RMorris Louis: The French & Co. Show of 1960, exh. cat., Santa Fe, Riva Yares Gallery, 2004, p. 38 (illustrated).
D. Carrier, "Morris Louis: High Museum of Art," Artforum, January 2007, p. 256.
Exhibited
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Morris Louis, October-November 1962 (illustrated on the cover in color).
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, The Biennale Eight, June-July 1964, no. 13.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and St. Louis, City Art Museum, Morris Louis: 1912-1962, February-August 1967, p. 72, no. 53 (illustrated).
Cleveland Museum of Art, Paintings by Morris Louis, September-November 1967.
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Fort Worth Art Museum; Washington, D.C., Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Painting and Sculpture, 1940-1970, October 1968-February 1970, p. 227, no. 247 (illustrated).
Milan, Padiglione d'arte contemporanea, Morris Louis: Dipinti 1953-1962, March-June 1990, no. 27 (illustrated).
Musée de Grenoble and Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Morris Louis, May-December 1996, p. 96 (illustrated).
Atlanta, High Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Washington, D.C., Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Morris Louis Now: An American Master Revisited, September 2007-January 2008, pp. 47 and 116-117, no. 28 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

"These, Louis's last great paintings, are probably the most open and certainly the most dynamic of the Stripes" (John Elderfield, Curator, Morris Louis, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987).


Morris Louis began his series of Stripe paintings early in 1961, less than two years before his untimely death from lung cancer at the age of forty-nine. These are his final series of paintings and they marked a radical departure in his work. The Stripes were starkly pure in their minimalist abstraction and they were significantly smaller than the vast majority of his mural-sized Veils, Florals, and Unfurleds.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason for the reduced size came from his frustration over the fact that few galleries or collectors at that time had spaces large enough to exhibit his prior work. So, Louis developed a theme that had appeared in a few Column paintings made in 1960 and concentrated on abutting bands of vivid hues placed in one or more stacks against the unpainted canvas. He had already employed the use of vivid, unmixed hues in his Unfurled series, painted in 1960-61. Initially, he directed the Stripes to be stretched with the colors positioned vertically on the canvas and anchored to the bottom edge, but in the spring of 1962 he composed horizontal Stripe paintings by positioning the color stacks so that they were entirely surrounded by unpainted canvas, making the color disembodied and hovering in space.

Finally in the summer of 1962, just before illness and surgery forced him to stop painting, Louis pushed the composition of his Stripe paintings in an unexpected direction. Three canvases on which the stripes floated in the center were marked by him for stretching as squares with the bands of color positioned diagonally. He discussed this decision at the time with both André Emmerich and with art critic Clement Greenberg. Louis explained to Greenberg that he hoped the diagonal stripes would "make a transition move from the vertical picture I'd done for so long to the big unfurling ones....." (M. Louis, quoted by D. Upright, Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, New York, 1985, p. 37).

Louis himself had never actually seen one stretched due to their size. He was anticipating Emmerich's move to a larger gallery space which could accommodate them. In fact, the Emmerich Gallery in Soho opened in 1964 with an exhibition of Louis' Unfurleds.

Hot Half, by far the most powerful of the three diagonal Stripe paintings, is striking in its taut abstraction. The equal widths of the six stripes, the clarity of color contrasts and elisions, and the blatant asymmetry of the structure infuse the painting with a vigor that belies its actual size. The exceptional quality of this picture, like the Unfurleds to which Louis related it, stems from its absolute integration of color and composition as pictorial coequals.

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