Louis' 'Dalet Beth' given to Museum of Art

March 22, 1991

The Baltimore Museum of Art has been given Morris Louis' 1958 painting "Dalet Beth," which BMA director Arnold Lehman described as "one of the most significant single gifts of modern art in the museum's history."

The abstract work, part of the Baltimore-born artist's celebrated "Veil" paintings, has been on loan to the BMA for a decade. It was donated by Louis' widow, Marcella Louis Brenner, a national trustee of the museum since 1982. The gift was made, according to a BMA statement, "in recognition of the museum's commitment to build the projected new west wing for modern art, scheduled for completion in 1993."

For insurance purposes, the museum's policy is not to disclose the value of its art works, but Mr. Lehman is on record as saying "Dalet Beth" is worth $500,000 to $750,000. The first Louis painting to enter the museum's permanent collection, it will be on view in the modern galleries of the BMA's Hooper Wing.

Born in 1912, Louis enrolled at the Maryland Institute, College of Art when he was only 15, earning his diploma in 1932. Influenced by the Cezannes and Matisses of the Cone Collection, he followed the approach of the absract expressionists and surrealists as well as Miro and Picasso.

He lived for a time in New York before moving to Washington, and his work was exhibited at the BMA on numerous occasions, winning prizes in the Maryland shows of 1949 and 1950. Louis died in 1962.

The "Veil" series, begun in 1954, constituted a new approach to art. The method involved pouring greatly thinned paint on a tilted, unprimed canvas surface. The critic Dore Ashton wrote that "color would form itself in slow drifts; would slide or glide across the surface of his canvas, and, at the same time, seep into its very depths, of spaces that flow beyond our vision, of virtual spaces that, like the rainbow, exist but cannot be touched."

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