Celebrating the Life of Artist Philip Morsberger

Philip Morsberger (1933 – 2021), The Green Years, 1992-1996, Oil on canvas, Gift of the artist, 2005.38.1

It is with deep sadness and a great sense of loss that we share the news that artist Philip Morsberger passed away on January 3, 2021 at the age of 87 from COVID-19 complications.

Born in 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland, Morsberger was first introduced to the world of art through his grandfather’s newspaper illustrations. By the age of 14, he was taking classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art. After receiving his B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon, Morsberger joined the Army which took him to Paris where he furthered his studies at the Academie de la Grande Chaumière. In the mid-1950s, he earned a Graduate Certificate of Art from Oxford University’s Ruskin School of Drawing. He went on to become Oxford University’s Master of Drawing from 1971-1984, an honor unheard of for an American artist. As an educator, he went on to teach at Harvard, Dartmouth, UC Berkley, California College of Arts and Crafts, Miami University and Augusta State University.

Beginning his career working in a realist style, Morsberger quickly moved toward abstraction, eventually developing a youthful but mature style that combined brightly colored abstraction with cartoonish figures. His work has been exhibited throughout Europe and the U.S., and is held in private and public collections throughout the world, including the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and the South Hampton City Art Gallery in England; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Jose Museum of Art and Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum in California; the Morris Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia; Dartmouth’s Hood Museum in New Hampshire; and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Philip Morsberger was a painter’s painter with a wholly unique approach to the surface. Keeping a strict schedule of studio work till the end, Morsberger never lost the ability to find joy in the act of painting. As an educator, he was an inspiration to generations of artists. One of his favorite quotes to share with students was by the great Bohemian author, Franz Kafka. “Art like prayer is a hand outstretched in the darkness, seeking for some touch of grace which will transform it into a hand that bestows gifts.” This quote seems a fitting tribute to the life and work of Philip Morsberger, whose gifts of knowledge and beauty will continue to enrich so many through his joyful and accomplished paintings.