Thomas Downing

Thomas  Downing


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)

One-Man Exhibitions:

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,
                              Washington DC
2007           Thomas Downing: Washington Color School Painter, Gary Snyder Project Space, New
                              York, NY

Group Exhibitions:


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
                              Arts, Philadelphia
                   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,
                              Washington, D.C.
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

Selected Collections:

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

Selected Bibliography:

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
           December 1968):11-12
“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


Ahlander, Leslie Judd. Art in Washington 1969, Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, 1968.
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:
           Grove Press, 1959.
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.
           Abrams, Inc., 1958.
Modern American Painting and Sculpture, New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1959.
Lucie-Smith, Edward. Late Modern. The Visual Arts Since 1945. New York: Frederick A.
           Praeger, 1969.
McDarrah, Fred W. and Gloria S. The Artist’s World in Pictures, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.,
           Inc., 1961.
Rose, Barbara. American Art Since 1900, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967.
Rosenberg, Harold. The Anxious Object: Art Today and Its Audience, New York: Horizon Press,
Sandler, Irving. The Triumph of American Painting. A History of Abstract Expressionism, New
           York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1970.


Alloway, Lawrence. Systemic Painting, New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1966.
Arnason, H.H. American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists, New York: Solomon R.
           Guggenheim Museum, 1961.
Art in Washington, Washington, D.C.: Washington Gallery of Modern Art, 1968.
Collection of Vincent Melzac, Washington, D.C.: American University, 1957.
Colorists 1950-1965, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1965.
The Face of the Fifties, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1961.
Greenberg, Clement. Post-Painterly Abstraction, Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum,
Harithas, James. The Washington Painters, Sarasota: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of
           Art, 1969.
Hudson, Andrew. Ten Washington Artists: 1950-1970, Edmonton, Canada: The Edmonton Art
           Gallery, 1970.
Hunter, Sam, Art Since 1950, Seattle: Seatlle World’s Fair, 1962.
Interpretive Notes on an Exhibition of Five Contemporary Artists from the Collection of Vincent Melzac, Washington, D.C.: C.I.A. Fine Arts Commision, 1968.
Johnson, Diana; Corkery, Arlene; Gross, Ellen Hope, Washington-Twenty Years, Baltimore: The
           Baltimore Museum of Art, 1970.
Landau, Ellen Gross; Rose, Barbara. The Vincent Melzac Collection, Washington, D.C.:
           Corcoran Gallery, 1971.
Nordland, Gerlald. The Washington Color Painters, Washington, D.C.” Washington Gallery of
           Modern Art, 1965.
Seitz, Willaim. The Responsive Eye, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1964.
Washington Art, Washington, D.C.: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1965.
Washington Artsts, Washington, D.C., Washington Workshop Center, 1954.