Red Abstraction

Media - 1978.40.2 - SAAM-1978.40.2_1 - 52856
Copied Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction, 1959, oil on canvas, 4027 34 in. (101.670.5 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1978.40.2

Artwork Details

Red Abstraction
4027 34 in. (101.670.5 cm)
lower right in oil: A/Thomas/'59 back upper right in felt-tipped pen and ink: A-T 30 stretcher upper center to upper right in felt-tipped pen and ink: 1959 RED ABSTRACTION
Credit Line
Gift of the artist
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Nonrepresentational
  • Abstract
Object Number

Artwork Description

Thomas began shifting from representation to abstraction in the late 1950s. She developed her signature style, using “stripes” of bright color, in the mid-1960s. Red Abstraction represents a moment in this evolution, before the artist moved into high-key color and acrylic paint. Rendered in oil paint, the painting testifies to Thomas’s persistent interest in the abstract forms and colors of nature. Its oranges and reds evoke the vibrant foliage of fall, while vertical swipes of black suggest the directional growth of trees.
Luce Center Label

Alma Thomas was inspired by the garden outside her window and painted images that suggest light flickering through leaves and petals. She used dabs and strokes of paint to express the "new colors through the windowpanes" that appeared every time the plants moved in the wind (Alma Thomas: Phantasmagoria, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2001). Here, the reds, browns, and greens create a warm, heavy mass in the center of the image, which contrasts with the paler shades around the edges. The earthy tones evoke the changing of the leaves during fall, when treetops appear to burst with vibrant color.



Media - 1978.40.3 - SAAM-1978.40.3_2 - 137737
Composing Color: Paintings by Alma Thomas
September 15, 2023June 2, 2024
The exhibition Composing Color: Paintings by Alma Thomas provides an intimate view of Alma Thomas’ evolving artistic practices during her most prolific period from 1959 to her death in 1978.