Artists & Designers

George Lovett Kingsland Morris (1905-1975)

George L.K. Morris (1905-1975) was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists (AAA) group, and an influential art critic for the Partisan Review. He wrote frequently of abstraction as the next logical development in the visual arts and believed that all art throughout history was abstract, but American art had a particularly strong tradition of abstract values reaching back to the colonial period. Morris was an important interwar artist whose contributions to Americanism Modernism—like those of his wife, Suzy Frelinghuysen (1911-1988)—have often been overshadowed by the rise of Abstract Expressionism.

Educated at Groton and Yale, Morris committed to an artistic career in 1925 after travel to Europe. After his graduation in 1928, he studied at the Art Students League with the Ashcan School painter John Sloan and then in France with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozefant from 1929-30 at the Academie Moderne in Paris. As he later described a transformative moment: “One day our professeur [Léger] addressed his students collectively….Everyone was on the wrong track. We were rendering our figures as though they were resting on the ground. Spread them all over the canvas, spot them across the picture plane….As far as I was concerned, this did it. I suddenly began to understand—through a barrage of visual prejudices—the modern conception of the all over pattern. I longed to rush out and look again at Cubist paintings that had been more or less senseless to me heretofore.” [1]

The artist was also inspired by the influence of his distant cousin Albert Eugene Gallatin, an important American Modernist whose Gallery of Living Art in New York provided some of the first sustained exposure to abstraction in this country since the Armory Show of 1913. (Morris exhibited there in 1935.) Morris’s mature style wedded the European language of synthetic cubism with an American iconography derived from history, landscape, and popular culture.

Morris and art critic Clement Greenberg exchanged conflicting views about the importance of Cubism in Partisan Review 1948. Greenberg believed the style had played itself out, preferring instead to advocate the artists who would come to the fore in the movement eventually known as Abstract Expressionism. Morris vigorously disagreed.

[1] Debra Bricker Balken and Robert S. Lubar, The Park Avenue Cubists: Gallatin, Morris, Frelinghuysen and Shaw, exh. cat. (New York: Grey Art Gallery, 2002), 54.

Adapted from

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA Acquisition proposal (2008.37), September 2008
  • DMA label copy (1972.37), n.d.

Fun Facts

  • George Lovett Kingsland Morris was a descendant of General Lewis Morris, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
  • In his statements on "What Abstract Art Means to Me," at the Museum of Modern At in 1951, Morris explained his stylistic approach as, "It has been my contention from the start that abstract art is no eccentric by-path, that it is limited or restricted only by the imaginative scope of its exponents; that there are countless and divergent ways through which the various problems can be hacked at, capable of infinite expressive possibilities."
  • In a 1937 article in the journal Plastique, "On the Abstract Tradition," Morris expressed his belief that abstract qualities were apparent even in traditional, representational artworks, when "the veil of subject-matter had been pierced and discarded...the works of all periods began to speak through a universal abstract tongue."
  • Contemporary critics referred to Morris as a "Park Avenue Cubist," because of his wealthy upbringing. The Grey Art Gallery at New York University organized a 2003 exhibition featuring Morris and others known by this moniker, The Park Avenue Cubists: Gallatin, Morris, Frelinghuysen, and Shaw.
  • An early success in Morris' career came with his participation in A.E. Gallatin's group exhibition "Five Contemporary American Concretionists: Biederman, Calder, Ferren, Morris, Shaw," presented by Gallatin's Museum of Living Art at Paul Reinhardt Galleries, New York, 1936. Two additional works of art in the DMA collection, Charles Biederman's Work no. 3, 1939 (2007.23) and Alexandre Calder's Score for Ballet 0-100 (1951.112.8), represent the early careers of artists included in this important 1936 exhibition of abstract art.

Web Resources

Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio
Check out the architecture and art collection of Morris's home in Lenox, Massachusetts.