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Morris LOUIS

United States of America 1912 – 1962

Dalet zayin 1959 Washington DC, District of Columbia, United States of America
paintings, synthetic polymer paint on unprimed canvas
Technique: synthetic polymer paint on unprimed canvas
Primary Insc: inscribed on reverse of canvas c.r., pencil, "M. Louis", possibly not by the artist, not dated
253.5 h x 336.5 w cm
Purchased 1974
Accession No: NGA 74.384
© 1959 Morris Louis

  • estate of the artist;
  • to Alistair McAlpine, London, through André Emmerich Gallery Inc., New York, in 1973;
  • André Emmerich Gallery Inc., New York;
  • from whom bought by the Interim Council of the Australian National Gallery, December 1974
  • There is no expressive or gestural use of a brush or palette knife in this work. When looking at Dalet zayin it becomes clear to the viewer that very diluted paint has flowed over the canvas. The artist probably fixed the loose canvas to a support and poured the paint from the top, manoeuvring it by tilting the canvas folds and perhaps steering it with something like a cloth wound round a stick. He and Kenneth Noland recalled seeing Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountains and sea in 1953 and being galvanised by its looseness and openness, with the colour spread out and stained, impregnating the weave.

    Despite the intense black and red in this work, all is effortless and gentle, with no subject other than the flow of pure paint, yet with a strong suggestion of delicate swaying veils of colour. A particular pleasure is to be found in the way the paint thinner seeps out to leave high-tide marks at the margins.

    The title, Dalet zayin, combines two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and was given arbitrarily after Louis’s death, when 400 works in his basement had to be catalogued.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • Dalet Zayin is one of a group of paintings known as 'Veils' which Louis began in 1954, when experimenting with the technique of staining unprimed canvas, and then continued between 1957 and 1960. The later 'Veils', of which there are approximately 130, were begun in the winter of 1957-58, soon after his exhibition at the Jackson Gallery in November 1957.1 The series was effectively concluded after his show at French and Company, held in April 1959, but occasional 'Veil' paintings were still painted until the winter of 1959-60. The exact dating of Louis' 'Veil' paintings within this sequence is problematic as most were not dated by the artist and remained unstretched and unexhibited for some time after his death.

    Louis expressed little interest in the titles of his works at least from 1954 onwards. The paintings were only given titles when it became necessary, for example when a work left the studio for an exhibition.2 Most paintings were therefore named posthumously. After Louis' death it was decided to title the 'Veils' with transliterations of names of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The pictures were titled arbitrarily, in order of being stretched. The title Dalet Zayin combines the fourth and seventh letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

    Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.300.

    1. Diane Upright Headley has dated the beginning of the second 'Veil' series at this date on the basis of a letter from Louis to Greenberg which mentions that a 'Veil' painting had been shown to a potential client in the spring of 1958. As this painting, Untitled 1958 (collection Mrs H. Gates Lloyd, Haverford, Pennsylvania), is a fully developed work it is likely that it was preceded by earlier trials (see Diana Upright Headley, 'In Addition to the Veils', Art in America, vol.66, no.1, January-February 1978, pp.84-94, cf. p.88)
    2. Even in the case of those works titled for exhibition, most of the titles it seems were suggested by the critic Clement Greenberg (see Diana Upright Headley, 'Morris Loius: The complete Paintings, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1935, p.37) The generic title for Louis' series 'Veil', was coined by William Rubin (see William Rubin, letter to the editor, Artforum, vol. 9, no. 7, March 1971, p.78).

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010