Morris Louis, a member of the Washington Color School, was born Morris Louis Bernstein in 1912 in Baltimore. At the age of fifteen, Louis won a four-year scholarship to the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts, graduating in 1932. He moved to New York in 1936, dropped his surname, and participated in experimental workshops given by the Mexican painter David Siqueiros. He survived the Depression by working on Federal arts projects for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). At that time, his style was representational. In 1939 he exhibited one painting at the WPA Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. He returned to Baltimore in the early 1940s and moved in 1947 to Silver Spring, Maryland, near Washington. In 1952, the artist and his wife moved into Washington, and Louis secured a teaching position at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts, where he became a friend of Kenneth Noland, a fellow member of the Washington Color School. In 1953, Louis, Noland, and the art critic Clement Greenberg visited New York galleries and studios, studying works by avant-garde artists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Helen Frankenthaler. In Frankenthaler’s studio, Louis and his Washington color school colleagues saw her new work that emphasized color through a staining technique, abandoning the trademark gestures and thick impasto of abstract expressionism. The painters returned to Washington, intent on exploring the visual effects of color relationships, using this new technique. Initially, Louis painted a series of Veils, large paintings that featured thin washes of colors that had been poured onto unprimed canvas, soaking into the material in a way that unified support and color. This format evolved into other compositions evoking natural associations such as petals. His Unfurleds featured bands of transparent colors forming loosely triangular shapes at the edges of the canvas, leaving the center empty. For Louis, another motif that offered possibilities for exploiting the potential of color was the stripe.
Louis's first one-person exhibition opened in 1953 at the Washington Workshop Art Center Gallery. The following year Greenberg included Louis in a seminal group exhibition, "Emerging Talent," at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York, which was the artist's first exposure in the New York art world; it was followed in 1957 by his first New York one-person show at the Martha Jackson Gallery. In 1960, André Emmerich became his dealer in the United States and Lawrence Rubin represented him in Paris. Louis died in 1962 at his home in Washington.