Thomas Downing

Alt text: Abstract geometric painting on shaped canvas
Alt text: Verso of painting

Thomas Downing
American, 1928-1985
Nineteen, 1968
Acrylic on canvas
35 1/2 H. x 16 5/8 W. inches
Signed and inscribed verso in pencil:
Jan. 68 / “Nineteen” / Downing

Artist Description

Thomas Downing grew up in Suffolk, VA, and became an integral member of the Washington Color School painters. Prior to studying art, he pursued a degree in literature from Randolph Macon in Ashland, VA, which he completed in 1948. While enrolled, he frequented the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and found that his true passion lay in the world of art, prompting him to relocate to New York and enroll at the Pratt Institute to study painting. Downing did not find the program particularly inspiring, and left in 1951 when he received a grant from the VMFA to travel to Europe, where he briefly studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and worked as a studio assistant for Fernand Leger.

After his adventures in Europe concluded, Downing settled in Washington, D.C. and took on a job as a high school art teacher. He was introduced to members of the Washington Color School by Kenneth Noland, and quickly became an important force of the movement. His work gained popularity over the next decade, leading to his inclusion in “Post Painterly Abstraction,” which was curated by Clement Greenberg in 1964 for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Downing’s notoriety declined in the 1970s, only to see a revival around the time of his death in 1985. He roamed the country for a time after leaving D.C., settling on Provincetown the year of his passing.

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