Local Color: Washington Painting at Midcentury

Media - 1977.48.5 - SAAM-1977.48.5_1 - 59312

Explore the expressive possibilities of color in this special installation of twenty-seven large-scale paintings from the museum’s permanent collection. Local Color: Washington Painting at Midcentury examines the cross influences of Washington, D.C.-based artists between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s when our nation’s capital was home to one of the most dynamic artistic communities in the country. 


Looking beyond the Color School label, this exhibition explores the astonishing breadth of styles and techniques adopted by Washington artists Leon Berkowitz, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Sam Gilliam, Fel Hines, Jacob Kainen, Howard Mehring, Paul Reed, and Alma Thomas who were conducting innovative experiments with color and form.

Visiting Information

July 3, 2008 October 12, 2008
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission


Leon Berkowitz
born Philadelphia, PA 1915-died Washington, DC 1987
Media - davis_gene_2.jpg - 89981
Gene Davis
born Washington, DC 1920-died Washington, DC 1985

[Gene Davis was] a major figure in 20th-century American painting whose contribution was invaluable in establishing Washington, D.C., as a center of contemporary art.

Media - portrait_image_114912.jpg - 90504
Thomas Downing
born Suffolk, VA 1928-died Provincetown, MA 1985

Thomas Downing received his BA in 1948 from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, and then moved to New York City to study at the Pratt Institute for two years.

Media - portrait_image_113542.jpg - 90299
Sam Gilliam
born Tupelo, MS 1933-died Washington, DC 2022

Gilliam is an innovative color field painter who has advanced the inventions associated with the Washington Color School.

Media - J0001703_1b.jpg - 89279
Felrath Hines
born Indianapolis, IN 1913-died Silver Spring, MD 1993

Painter. Hines studied design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., and his paintings—in the tradition of the De Stijl movement—often contain strong design elements.

Media - 1981.115 - SAAM-1981.115_1 - 52742
Jacob Kainen
born Waterbury, CT 1909-died Washington, DC 2001

Printmaker who worked in woodcut, silk screen, and other media; his style gradually evolved from the social realism of the 1930s to more abstract portraits in the 1950s and later.

Charles Sullivan, ed American Beauties: Women in Art and Lite

Howard Mehring
born Washington, DC 1931-died Annapolis, MD 1978

Howard Mehring studied art at Catholic University of America, where he met Kenneth Noland, then an instructor, and Thomas Downing. The two were soon to be associated with Mehring as members of the Washington Color School.

Paul Reed
born Washington, DC 1919-died Phoenix, AZ 2015
Media - 1977.121 - SAAM-1977.121_1 - 52854
Alma Thomas
born Columbus, GA 1891-died Washington, DC 1978
Alma Thomas was a teacher and artist who developed a powerful form of abstract painting late in life. From the mid-1960s, she produced brilliantly colored and richly patterned works intimately connected to the natural world.