ALMA W. THOMAS (1891 - 1978, AMERICAN) Reflections.
Oil on cotton canvas, 1960. 1016x762 mm; 40x30 inches. Signed AW Thomas and dated 60, lower right recto. Signed Alma W. Thomas and inscribed 1530 15th St. NW, Washington, DC, upper right verso.
Provenance: the James K. Hill Collection.
Exhibited: Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, July 9, 2021 - October 3, 2021, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, October 30, 2021 - January 23, 2022, Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN, February 25 - June 5, 2022; Early Alma Thomas, Hemphill Gallery, Washington, DC, February 4 - April 1, 2017; Alma W. Thomas: Retrospective Exhibition, Gallery of Art, Howard University, Washington, DC, April 24 - May 17, 1966. (The painting is dated 1963 in the catalogue).
Illustrated: Seth Feman and Jonathan Frederick Walz, Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful, 2021, p. 202.
Reflections is a beautiful and important early abstraction by Alma Thomas, painted on the cusp of her brilliant painting career. In 1960, Thomas had just resigned from her position at Shaw Junior High School, ending a thirty five year art teaching career, beginning a full-time dedication to painting at the age of 69. Thomas had been painting for decades prior - developing a body of work from modernist portraits and still lifes towards abstraction in the late 1950s. This painting shows Thomas's embrace of abstraction by 1960, and the rich inspiration she found in nature - interests that would continue over the next eightteen years. Reflections' inclusion in both her first and most recent retrospectives, the 1966 Howard University exhibition and the 2021-22 traveling exhibition at Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful, organized by curators Seth Feman and Jonathan Frederick Walz, signifies this work's significance and how it defines this important formative period of Thomas's practice.
Reflections' modernist composition is an excellent representative of Thomas's abstract painting from the early 1960s. Her abstractions from nature at this moment are characterized by saturated blue or red colors and punctuated by rapid brushstrokes and sgraffito or palette knife markings. This elegant composition is centered on a representation of color and light reflected in a river or pond, but is also punctuated with passages of early fall colors and suggestions of branches at the edges. Thomas had an affinity with the deep hue of ultramarine blue. Several paintings of the period, from The Stormy Sea, 1958, collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum to Blue Abstraction, 1961, Howard University Gallery of Art are centered on this expressive color.
Reflections is also an important precursor to Thomas's later body of work centered on reflections found in nature. In 1964, this period of painting was interrupted by a severe attack of arthritis--an interval that led to her "mature" style and first retrospective at Howard University in 1966. Alma Thomas achieved unparalleled critical success and national public recognition in 1972 with her solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a first for an African American woman. Her interest in natural reflections of color continues in such later works as Late Night Reflections, 1972, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Pond - Spring Awakening, 1972, the Akron Art Museum and Snow Reflections on Pond, 1973, Smithsonian American Art Museum.