Thomas Downing (1928-1985)

Thomas Downing was an American painter born in Suffolk, Virginia. He was associated with the Washington Color Field Movement, which included artists like Gene Davis, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Howard Mehring.


Although he initially went to school for English literature, he was an avid museum-visitor and, ultimately, his interests shifted to art. This interest took him to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he studied fine art and was influenced by the New York School painters. He received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to travel to Europe to further study art.

This grant would prove extremely important for Downing, allowing him in 1951 to study and work under the renowned painter Fernand Léger in Paris as one of his studio assistants. Following his time in Europe, he returned to the United States and joined the US Army, and, although never deployed, ended up in Washington, D.C. teaching in a high school. He met the painter Kenneth Noland while enrolled in a course at Catholic University. Noland introduced Downing to the artists forming the Washington Color School Movement during this time.


He began producing his more well-known works composed of grids and circles of multi-colored dots in the 1960s. In 1964, these works were included in Clement Greenberg’s traveling museum exhibition, Post-Painterly Abstraction. Downing’s work was also included in the Museum of Modern Art’s The Responsive Eye (1965), a revolutionary exhibition curated by William C. Seitz


Downing’s work can be found in the permanent collections of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; and the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.


Thomas Downing died in Provincetown, Massachusetts in October of 1985.