The ambitious painting Seal (1959) by Morris Louis is related to the artist’s “Veil” series from1958–59. Roughly 8 ½-by-12-feet, the painting exudes the physicality unmistakable in Louis’s mature work. Marked by translucent and vivid layers of color, Seal was first exhibited in March 1960, when Clement Greenberg, curator and artistic director for French and Company, New York, chose a range of “Veils” and their variations for Louis’s second solo show at the gallery; the painting also served as the accompanying brochure’s cover image. Shortly after the exhibition closed, Greenberg heralded Louis and Kenneth Noland as part of a new generation of American painters working in Washington, DC, who are using color in new and exciting ways.
Louis found inspiration in the great French colorists represented in The Phillips Collection, specifically Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as American abstract painters Arthur Dove, Mark Rothko, and Augustus Vincent Tack. Duncan Phillips responded to Louis’s work, purchasing Number I-82 from the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s 28th Biennial Exhibition in 1963 and installing it shortly thereafter. Seal is the fourth painting by Morris Louis to enter the museum’s collection.