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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Theodoros Stamos papers, circa 1922-2008

Theodoros Stamos papers, circa 1922-2008

Biographical Note

Painter Theodoros Stamos (1922-1997) worked in New York and spent considerable time in Lefkada, Greece. A first generation Abstract Expressionist, Stamos developed as a color field painter, and had a long teaching career. His later years were encumbered by his role in the Mark Rothko Estate controversy.
Born to Greek immigrant parents in New York City, Stamos attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, leaving just three months before graduation to pursue a career in art. From 1941 to 1948 he operated a frame shop where he framed hundreds of Paul Klee paintings for Nierendorf Gallery and encountered customers such as Arshile Gorky and Fernand L├ęger, experiences that influenced the young artist.
Stamos' first solo exhibition, presented by Betty Parsons in 1943, brought the 20 year old painter to the attention of museums and private collectors. Throughout the 1940s Stamos painted and traveled extensively. By the end of the decade he had had three solo exhibitions and participated in group shows such as the 1945 Whitney Museum Biennial and "The Ideographic Picture," an important early Abstract Expressionist exhibition curated by Barnett Newman.
Through connections made at the American Artists' School Stamos became a notable artist among the New York avant garde during the early years of Abstract Expressionism. He was the youngest of the "Irascibles," a group of American artists who broke from the School of Paris to create a new approach to abstract painting.
In 1951, Stamos built a house in East Marion, New York on Long Island where he lived and worked. Here, he began to develop his color field technique and, influenced by his Greek heritage, continued to express interest in spiritualism and ancient Greek myths and philosophy. In 1958, Stamos' work was shown in a retrospective exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and in "The New American Painting," the Museum of Modern Art's traveling exhibition that introduced European audiences to Abstract Expressionism.
Stamos began his career as an educator in 1950 at Black Mountain College. Later, he taught at Columbia University and Brandeis University, and for more than 20 years was on the faculty of the Art Students League.
Following the death of his friend Mark Rothko, Stamos was involved in a highly publicized lawsuit involving his role as an executor of the estate. The trial ended unsuccessfully for Stamos and its adverse consequences impacted the late part of his career. In 1966, the Rothko children obtained permission to disinter their father's remains from the Stamos burial plot in East Marion, New York; with the assistance of Stamos' sister, Georgianna Savas, arrangements were made to bury Rothko at a cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
Traveling between homes in New York and Lefkada, Greece, Stamos continued to paint and teach late into his life. He died in Greece in 1997.