Thomas Downing was born in Suffolk, Virginia. He studied at Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948. He then studied at the Pratt Institute, a well-known art school in Brooklyn, New York, until 1950. That year he received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, enabling him to travel to Europe, where he studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1951 he returned to the United States, and after serving in the U.S. Army, settled in Washington, D.C., where he began to teach, in 1953. The following summer, he enrolled in a summer institute at Catholic University, studying under Kenneth Noland, who was a founder of the Washington Color Field Movement. He became a friend of Noland, who became a significant influence on Downing's art. In the late 1950s, Downing shared a studio with Howard Mehring, another artist of the Washington Color School and Color Field painting. From 1965 to 1968, Downing taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C. There he taught several people who in their turn became artists influenced by Downing's ideas, including Sam Gilliam. His paintings to a large extent consisted of circles arranged in precise patterns on the canvas, with colors often chosen according to ideas of symmetry. Downing clearly pre-dated Damien Hirst's 'spot paintings'. In the last ten years of his life, Downing lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
(1928 - 1985)
1959 Sculptors Studio, Washington, D.C.
1960 Origo Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1961 Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1962 Allan Stone Gallery, New York
1963 Stable Gallery, New York
1966 The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Thomas Downing: Recent Paintings
1967 Henri Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
1968 Allan Stone Gallery, New York
La Jolla Museum of Art
Phoenix Art Museum (both Thomas Downing Paintings 1962-1968)
A.M. Sachs Gallery, New York
1970 Pyramid Gallery Ltd., Washington, D.C.
1972 Pyramid Gallery Ltd., Washington, D.C.
1973 La Galerie Arnaud, Paris
1975 Pyramid Gallery Ltd., Washington, D.C.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Houston
1979 Osuna Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1980 Osuna Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1982 Salander O’Reilly Gallery New York
1985 Harm Bouckaert Gallery, New York
Addison/Ripley Gallery, Ltd., Washington, D.C.
Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
1989 Tom Downing: 1965-1970, Addison Ripley Gallery, Ltd., Washington, D.C.
1994 Selected Paintings: 1971-1975, Addison/Ripley Gallery, Ltd., Washington, D.C.
2002 Origin of the Dot, Conner Contemporary Art, Washington DC
2007 Thomas Downing: 1963-1976, Addison Ripley Fine Art, Warner Office Building,
2007 Thomas Downing: Washington Color School Painter, Gary Snyder Project Space, New
2015 Op Infinitum: “The Responsive Eye” Fifty Years After, Part I, American Op Art in the 60’s, David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
1963 28th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Experiments in Art, Decordova Museum of Art, Lincoln, Massachusetts
1964 Nine American Painters. Pan American Union, Washington, D.C.
Post Painterly Abstraction, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
1965 1 + 1 = 3. University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin
A Contemporary Collection of Painting and Sculpture (selected from the collection of
Eleanor Ward). Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, Connecticut
The Responsive Eye. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Colorists 1950-1965. San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco
1965 The Washington Color Painters, Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C.;
University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin; Art Gallery, University of
California, Santa Barbara; Rose Art Galleries, Brandeis University, Waltham,
Massachusetts; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
1966 Sculpture and Painting Today (selections from the collection of Susan Morse Hilles).
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The 161st Annual Exhibition of American Painting. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine
Harry N. Abrams Family Collection. The Jewish Museum, New York
Systemic Painting. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
The Hard Edge Trend. National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.
Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art. The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington,
1967 30th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Painting. The Corcoran Gallery of Art, New York
1967 1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New
1970 Color Field Painting. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
20 Years of Washington Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
Ten Washington Artists: 1950-1970. The Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton, Canada
The Vincent Melzac Collection: Modernist American Art featuring New York Abstract
Expressionism and Washington Color Painting. The Corcoran Gallery of Art,
1974 Selections from the Permanent Collection. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1975 Modern Painting: 1900 to the Present. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Houston
1980 Washington Color Painters, Fendrick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Osuna Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1990 Washington Color: The First Generation Painters. Orlando Museum of Art
2007 Generations of the Washington Color School Revisited, The George Washington University
Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, Washington DC
2007 Washington Color School: Selections from the Artery Collection, International Arts &
Artists’ Hillyer Art Space
2007 Lyrical Color: Morris Louis, Gene Davis, Kenneth Noland and the Washington Color
School, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC
2007 OPTIC NERVE: Perceptual Art of the 1960s, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH
2008 New American Abstraction 1950-1970, Gary Snyder Project Space, New York, NY
2008 Color Field Revisited, Gary Snyder Project Space, New York, NY
2008 New American Abstraction 1960-1975, Gary Snyder Project Space, New York, NY
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Metropolitan Museum of Art Center, Inc., Coral Gables, Florida
Federal Reserve Bank, Richmond, Virginia
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
Oklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
University Art Museum, Berkeley, California
Sunrise Museums, Charleston, West Virginia
The Denver Art Museum, Denver
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
The Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
George Washington University Collection, Washington, D.C.
La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix
Stanford University Museum and Art Gallery, Stanford, California
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
Dimock Gallery, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
University of the District of Columbia Collection, Washington, D.C.
Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System, Washington, D.C.
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Georgetown University Collection, Washington, D.C.
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, Massachusetts
Ahlander, Leslie Judd. “An Artist Speaks: Tom Downing.” The Washington Post,
9 September 1962, sec. G, p. 4.
“The Emerging Art of Washington.” Art International 6 (November 1962): 30-33.
Alloway, Lawrence. “Background to Systemic,” ARTnews 65(October 1966): 31.
“Art: Neck & Neck,” Time 90(22 December 1967): 46.
Ashton, Dore. “Exhibition of Systemic Painting at the Guggenheim Museum.” Arts and
Architecture 83 (November 1966): 7
Baro, Gene. “Washington and Detroit.” Studio International 174(July-August 1967):50-51
Bourdon, David. “Washington Letter.” Art International 17(February 1973):22.
Campbell, Lawrence. “Reviews and Previews: Thomas W. Downing.” ARTnews 66
(Summer 1967 ):14.
Coplans, John. “Post Painterly Abstraction.” Art International 8 (Summer 1964): 5-9.
Edgar, Natalie. “Reviews and Previews: Thomas Downing.” ARTnews 63(February 1965):16.
Forgey, Benjamin. “Making Conflicting Elements Work Harmoniously.” The Sunday Star,
Washington, D.C., 4 June 1972, sec. B, p.7.
“Galleries: A Fine Sense of Color…” The Washington Star, 11 March 1979, sec. E, p.4.
Greenberg, Clement. “Post Painterly Abstraction.” Art International 8(Summer 1964):63-65.
Grossberg, Jacob. “In the Galleries: Thomas Downing.” Arts 39(February 1965): 65.
Judd, Donald. “Reviews: Tom Downing.” Arts 38(November 1963):35.
Kurtz, Stephen A. “Reviews and Previews: Thomas Downing.” ARTnews 67
“Reviews and Previews: Thomas Downing.” ARTnews 67(December 1968):16
Lippard, Lucy R. “New York Letter.” Art International 9(March 1965):51.
Mahoney, J.W. “Thomas Downing: A Practice of Timelessness.” New Art Examiner 12(May 1984):
Richard, Paul. “A New Show of Canvases by Thomas Downing.” The Washington Post,
25 October 1970, sec. H, p. 3.
“Downing Back Home: ‘New Art’ Comes Full Circle.” The Washington Post, 10 March 1979,
sec.B, pp. 1,3.
“Colors of Confidence.” The Washington Post, 12 April 1980, sec. C, p. 7.
Rose, Barbara. “New York Letter.” Art International 7(December 1963):65.
“The Primacy of Color.” Art International 8(May 1964):22-26.
Rose, Barbara and Sandler Irving. “Sensibility of the Sixties.” Art in America 55(January 1967):46.
Rosenthal, Nan. “New York: Gallery Notes.” Art in America 53(February 1965):114.
Sharpless, T.A. “Reviews and Previews: Thomas Downing.” ARTnews 61(September 1962):16.
Stevens, Elizabeth. “Washington Color Painters.” Arts 40(November 1965):30.
Swenson, G.R. “Reviews and Previews: Thomas Downing.” ARTnews 62(October 1963):12.
(the following is an excerpt from: The Vincent Melzac Collection, Part One: The Washington Color Painters – catalog presented by the Palm Beach Sponsers Committee of the Museum of the Palm Beaches, Inc. Norton Gallery and School of Art, Palm Beach, Florida. 1974)
The Washington Color School: General References
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Artists Equity Association, Washington Artists Today, Washington, D.C.: H.K. Press, 1967.
Friedman, B.H. ed. The School of New York-Some Younger Artists, New York:
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Greenberg, Clement. Art and Culture, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.
Hunter, Sam. “Art Since 1945-The United States,” New Art Around the World, New York: Harry N.
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Rosenberg, Harold. The Anxious Object: Art Today and Its Audience, New York: Horizon Press,
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Collection of Vincent Melzac, Washington, D.C.: American University, 1957.
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Johnson, Diana; Corkery, Arlene; Gross, Ellen Hope, Washington-Twenty Years, Baltimore: The
Baltimore Museum of Art, 1970.
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