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George L. K Morris

(1905—1975)


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(1905–75).

Painter and critic. A devoted admirer of abstract art, he fostered its development over a period of several decades. Born in New York, George Lovett Kingsland Morris graduated from Yale University in 1928. He then studied at the Art Students League with John Sloan, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Jan Matulka and under Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne in Paris. There he also met a number of leading European abstract artists, including Mondrian and Arp. By the mid-1930s Morris had developed an eclectic, nonrepresentational approach indebted to a wide range of European modernists. He assisted in formation of the American Abstract Artists organization, often represented the group as its informal spokesman, and served as president between 1948 and 1950. Extending his advocacy of modern art into print, between 1937 and 1939 he served as an editor of the multilingual Plastique, which he had helped to found. From 1937 to 1943 he was a contributing editor for Partisan Review, which he also supported financially and where his art criticism frequently appeared. Reflecting his admiration for the many varieties of modernism exemplified by the School of Paris, Morris's art echoes at different times nearly all the modern masters. Yet, his interpretation, emphasizing order, clarity, and pure form, is never entirely derivative. His strongest work, completed for the most part in the late 1930s and early 1940s, depends on cubist structure, usually realized in hard-edge, unmodulated shapes, which are dynamically organized, often swirling around a central element. Although representational motifs occurred occasionally in this period, in the 1950s and 1960s they appeared regularly. Santo Spirito (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1951–55), suggests a church interior by picturing within intersecting cubist planes certain architectural features, including a stained glass window, vaulting, and a patterned floor, as well as candles and the statue of an angel. Over a period of twenty years late in his career, Morris produced a number of paintings consisting of small, uncomplicated geometric shapes arranged in whirling patterns and producing effects that presage op art, as in Recessional (Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1950). Morris also occasionally tried his hand at sculpture and collage. He died in an automobile accident near Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

In 1935 he married Suzy Frelinghuysen (1911–88), whose accomplishments as a painter and collage artist belied her lack of professional training. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Estelle Condit Frelinghuysen received painting as well as music lessons during her childhood in Elberon and Princeton. Later, following Morris's example, she painted in a cubist style. Although these works tend to be more directly derivative of Synthetic cubism than his, they are also more personal, wittier, less intellectualized, and more ingratiating. She exhibited with the American Abstract Artists from 1938 until two years before her death. Throughout her career, she also painted in a realistic style, although she did not exhibit this work. Even more attracted to music than to art, as Suzy Morris she debuted at the New York City Opera in 1947 and performed there during several subsequent seasons. She died in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Together, during 1944–45 in Lenox, Massachusetts, the couple decorated an International Style home Morris had helped to design. Their abstract frescoes contributed to the comfortable but strikingly modern elegance of the home's ambience, enhanced by their distinguished collection of European and American abstract art. Adjacent to Tanglewood, the residence is now a museum seasonally open to the public.

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Subjects: Art.


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