LAMA BLOG

Alma Thomas: Rhapsodies in Light and Color

February 16, 2014

The February 23, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction features one of the most important African-American female artists of the later half of the 20th century. Alma Thomas channeled her vision of the natural world through minimal compositions rendered in harmonious scales of color. Prior to her career as an artist, Thomas spent her childhood years in Columbus, Georgia. In 1906, she and her family relocated to Washington, D.C. to escape increasing racial violence and also to ensure a better education for Thomas and her siblings.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (c. 1974), Alma Thomas

Education would prove critical to Alma’s development as an artist. She became the first graduate of the Fine Arts program at Howard University, later moving on to a degree in Art Education from Colombia University, ultimately turning to study painting at American University under formidable art historian turned artist Jacob Kainen. Under Kainen’s instruction, Thomas was introduced to Color Field School artists he promoted, including Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. However, Thomas would not fully explore her artistic prowess until her retirement from teaching in 1960 at the age of 69.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (c. 1974), Alma Thomas

Starting in this period, Thomas would carefully survey a holly tree and the patterns on the walls and windowpanes that the obscured outside light would produce. She painted beauty of the natural order, light and color as seen from her living-room window: “That has become my inspiration…There are six patterns in there right now that I can see. And every morning…the wind has given me new colors through the windowpanes.” The prismatic effect of light served as inspiration for many of her works, including a selection of five gouaches on paper from the 1970s.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (c. 1974), Alma Thomas

In Untitled (Lot 137) succulent strokes of red, orange, yellow, and green pierce through a sea of blue wash. A muted cerulean and teal beams stretch across a cloudy carmine background on a diagonal axis in Untitled (Lot 141). The spectrum of colors mimics the prismatic effect of light projected through glass. When looking at these works, one can imagine Thomas attentively seated by her living-room window, scrutinizing the color of light rays projected through the windowpanes. However, works from this period are few and far between, as Thomas was afflicted by degenerative eyesight in her later years, cutting short her ability to paint. In a tribute to her deep affection for light and color, the last work she had painted was titled Rainbow (1978).

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (c. 1974), Alma Thomas

In 2009, two paintings by Alma Thomas were chosen by Michelle Obama to be exhibited in the White House for the duration of Barack Obama’s presidency. Thomas’s works can be found in the permanent collection of major museums including the Phillips Collection, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (c. 1974), Alma Thomas

Lot Information:

Lot 137
Alma Thomas
Untitled
c. 1974
Gouache on paper
Stamped signature verso
Image/sheet: 6.25″ x 8.75″; Frame: 12″ x 17″

Provenance: Harold Rudoff Hart, New York, New York; Thence by descent

Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

Lot 138
Alma Thomas
Untitled
c. 1974
Gouache on paper
Illegible inscription lower left sheet; stamped signature verso
Image/sheet: 6″ x 7.5″; Frame: 12″ x 17″

Provenance: Harold Rudoff Hart, New York, New York; Thence by descent

Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

Lot 139
Alma Thomas
Untitled
c. 1974
Gouache on paper
Stamped signature verso
Image/sheet: 6″ x 8″; Frame: 12″ x 17″

Provenance: Harold Rudoff Hart, New York, New York; Thence by descent

Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

Lot 140
Alma Thomas
Untitled
c. 1974
Gouache on paper
Stamped signature verso
Image/sheet: 5″ x 7.5″; Frame: 12″ x 17″

Provenance: Harold Rudoff Hart, New York, New York; Thence by descent

Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

Lot 141
Alma Thomas
Untitled
c. 1974
Gouache on paper
Stamped signature verso
Image/sheet: 6.625″ x 7.75″; Frame: 12″ x 17″

Provenance: Harold Rudoff Hart, New York, New York; Thence by descent

Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

For more information, or details on how to bid, please contact a LAMA representative.

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