Lovingly kept in the collection of a single family since it was first acquired in 1964, Number 10 is an exceptional example from Morris Louis's iconic series of Stripe paintings, in which an energetic beam of warm terra-cotta and marigold, burnt orange, deep evergreen, sugared plum and midnight navy streaks across unadulterated canvas. Number 10's saturated, psychedelic hues, touching or bleeding delicately into one another at intervals, are superimposed across a soft pattern of visible canvas threads to create a texturally sumptuous and subtle work of visual wonder. The rounded tops of each stripe-which push upward like the winking flicker of a candle's flame-hint at the artist's highly physical working process, wherein long vertical bands of paint are painstakingly poured and soaked against the grain of the canvas.
Morris Louis and fellow Color Field painters came to prominence in the late fifties--emphasizing the flat, two-dimensional objecthood of the picture plane with swaths of unmodulated color. Louis's expressive, inventive use of pure color earned him the admiration of the influential critic Clement Greenberg. While his body of work evinces formal rigor and a sophisticated, complex abstract vocabulary, it is also plainly concerned with pure visual enjoyment. As Irving Sandler states, "[The paintings] are hedonistic in spirit, decorously cultivating the delectability of color. They did insinuate self, nature and other art in their choice of color but their essential content was immediate and open, buoyant color" (I. Sandler, quoted by D. Upright, Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1985, p. 236).
Louis's mature oeuvre is dominated by four formal themes--Veils, Florals, Unfurleds and Stripes. Number 10, like others in the Stripes series, is composed of elegant, tight lateral bands of occasionally disparate poured color that penetrate and steep the canvas to form a sumptuous, idiosyncratic rainbow. Says John Elderfield of the Stripes: "Far from harmonizing the individual stripes by color, Louis usually vibrates them, creating an illusion of painterliness in their optical flicker...(at times) they present the illusion of an almost corrugated surface, until the visible weave of the canvas tautens it, pulling out its creases, as they were" (J. Elderfield, Morris Louis: The Museum of Modern Art, exh. cat., New York, 1986, p. 74). The perfect marriage of formal tenacity and visual splendor, Number 10 is a pristine example of Morris Louis's late work.