Willem de Looper

The Washington Post remembers a local curator and painter:

Willem de Looper, 76, a prolific abstract painter who for many years was a major figure on the Washington art scene as an artist and chief curator of the Phillips Collection, died Jan. 30 of emphysema at the Washington Home hospice.

Mr. de Looper, who worked out of a studio in his home at the St. Regis Apartments on California Street NW, painted large, often colorful works that were, in essence, experiments in color, form and texture.

Like the local artists known collectively as the Washington Color School in the 1950s and 1960s, he experimented with technique, but his works gradually became freer and more expansive than such Color School predecessors as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.

“He always danced between abstraction and a very expansive and lush vocabulary,” said Terry Gips, an artist and former director of the fine art museum at the University of Maryland at College Park.

During his years as curator of the Phillips Collection — where he started out as a guard — Mr. de Looper worked to promote Washington artists, instituted the first systematic inventory of the collection and organized a number of significant exhibitions.

“He made the Phillips an artists’ museum,” said Gips, who curated a retrospective exhibition of Mr. de Looper’s work in 1996. “It became kind of sacred to artists because it had a personal feel that the bigger museums in Washington didn’t have.”

His own work was influenced by his daily exposure to the museum’s collection, particularly the works of such abstract painters as Paul Klee, Mark Rothko and Wassily Kandinsky.

D.C. Artist Shaped the Phillips (Washington Post)