Simple Pleasures: The Art of Doris Lee

Page 1

250mm

24.5mm

250mm

20mm

20mm

20mm

285mm

Doris Lee was considered among the top female artists—indeed among the top figurative artists, regardless of gender— in the American art world from the mid-1930s through the 1950s. At one point, postcards of her most well-known painting, Thanksgiving, outsold those of Grant Wood’s iconic American Gothic. She was esteemed in equally high terms for her commercial work, producing fabric and ceramic designs, prints, and award-winning illustrations for books and publications, like Life and Fortune. Such achievements and accolades notwithstanding, Lee was often dismissed because of her decorative, folkart style and her domestic subjects. Simple Pleasures: The Art of Doris Lee gives overdue recognition of Lee’s significant contributions to American art and brings together paintings, drawings, prints and ephemera spanning her forty-year career. Four essays provide an intriguing exploration of her life and work, paying respect to her ability to conjure joy in life’s simple pleasures and erasing the idea that her art was too unserious to take seriously. This book includes over 150 beautiful color illustrations (including over 70 plates of Lee’s work) and a chronology of the artist.

UK£40.00 / US$54.95 ISBN: 978-1-911282-67-9

20mm

221 North Main Street, Greensburg, PA 15601 thewestmoreland.org

Doris Lee-Case.indd 1

10/12/2020 11:57




to this day I can see in detail


the frog and the ripples in the water.�


34 from left: fig. 1.11 Unidentified artist,

American, Fruit in Footed Bowl, c. 1825. Paint on cotton

velvet, 15.75 x 20.875 inches, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Museum Purchase, 1932.403.2. fig. 1.12 Attributed to Joseph

H. Davis, 1811-1865, New Hampshire, The Barrett Sisters, 1837. Watercolor, ink, and pencil on wove paper, 7 x 8.875 inches, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Gift of Juli Grainger, 2008.300.3.

and the artist takes an obsessive delight in the flatly patterned embellishment of bricks, shingles, paddocks, and trees that characterize the best of this folk-art genre. Lee similarly assures that the viewer can appreciate every element of her scene thoroughly by rarely overlapping her crops, animals, and path stones scattered across the canvas. The art world could have turned its attention to folk art through the everyday subjects and stories it shared with American Scene painting, which was often characterized as an art of the “folk.” 46 Instead, American artists were drawn to folk art through the reductive and often visionary styles it shared with modernism. Folk art was, in fact, introduced to the world of fine art side by side with modernism through some of its most iconic purveyors, among them Juliana Force; New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) cofounder Abby Rockefeller; and MoMA’s first director, Alfred Barr. Under Force’s directorship, the Whitney Museum presented one of the first museum folk-art exhibitions in the United States, Early American Art, in 1924. As early as 1931—the same year Doris arrived at Woodstock—Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery, the preeminent gallery for American modernism, had begun to show folk art, emphasizing its stylistic relationship to modernism. At the urging of Barr and Holger Cahill (then curator at the Newark Museum of Art), Rockefeller began to acquire folk art, making many of her purchases from Halpert, and installed them in her home next to works by Matisse and the German expressionists.47 In fact, she donated fifty-four folk paintings to MoMA in her enthusiasm for their appropriateness in the context of the museum’s modernist icons. Folk art and modernism alternated with seeming ease at MoMA. In 1932, the museum opened its groundbreaking exhibition American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man in America, 1750–1900, the catalog for which made strong claims regarding the connection between modernist and folk-art tendencies. Only three years later, Barr mounted the landmark exhibition Cubism and

below: fig. 1.13 Unidentified artist,

American, Farmhouse in Mahantango Valley, late 19th century. Oil on canvas, 29.5 x 28.375 inches, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1953.5.94.

Simple Joys and Serious Painting


35 fig. 1.14 Georges Rouault,

French, 1871-1958, The Old King, 1916-36. Oil on canvas, 30.25 x 21.25 inches, Carnegie Museum of Art, Patrons Art Fund, 40.1.

below, from left: fig. 1.15 William Edmondson,

1874-1951, Ram, 1938-42. Limestone, 17.25 x 24 x 6.5 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Art, The John R. Derlip Fund, 2013.56.

fig. 1.16 Morris Hirshfield, 1879-1946, Tiger, 1940. Oil on canvas, 28 x 39.875 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund, 328.1941.

Melissa Wolfe

Abstract Art. Then, in 1938, he organized the traveling exhibition Masters of Popular Painting: Modern Primitives of Europe and America. The museum’s support for both genres was grounded in its founding mission. Rockefeller, with Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan, had founded MoMA as a way to educate Americans about the kind of high modernism—the Matisses and Picassos—to which the women were committed. However, their other goal was to educate Americans about their own country’s early untrained craftspeople as the rightful ancestors” of American modernists.48 As Kuniyoshi’s patron, Hamilton Easter Field, explained, “American art must be built on other foundations than those of Cubism or Futurism.… [American artists] should not allow [them]selves to be drawn away from the task … of creating a national tradition.” 49 Lee certainly knew of Rockefeller’s donation and the context in which it was given. In 1947, she and Blanch published one of the first painting how-to books, Painting for Enjoyment, which they illustrated with works from Rockefeller’s gift. Lee also voiced ideas clearly informed by those of Barr and the others, stating that self-taught artists “are the foundation of our pictorial heritage and culture. They have enriched us and can continue to give some human visions of life that the trained artist sometimes considers unimportant.” And, with an aim to convert readers’ opinion, she informed them that self-taught paintings “are now in museums and in private art collections, not as relics of the past, but because they are things of beauty.”50 One of the strongest aspects that compelled Lee and other artists to incorporate into their own practices the lessons of both folk art and modernism was their shared desire for the most direct and immediate connection between the artist and the object and between the object and the viewer. Lee and Blanch had a colored print of Georges Rouault’s The Old King (fig. 1.14) hung prominently over their mantle. Even in the form of a print, the painting’s intense physicality of thickly layered impasto and rough black angles immediately conveys the profound psychological and physical weight of age and wisdom. This immediacy was also achieved in folk art such as Ram (fig. 1.15) by William Edmondson, who worked directly on the surface, with no mediation—


108

Thanksgiving, 1942

Lithograph on paper, 8.75 x 11.5 inches Albright-Knox Art Gallery

opposite:

Thanksgiving, 1935

Oil on canvas, 28.125 x 40.125 inches The Art Institute of Chicago


109


122

The Family Reunion, 1942

Oil on canvas, 24 x 34 inches Private Collection


123

Off to Auction, 1942

Oil on canvas, 24.5 x 35.5 inches

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art


146

New House, 1946

Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches Figge Art Museum




171

Souvenirs, Key West, 1950

Gouache on paper, 14.75 x 21.875 inches Collection: Dianne and Bobby Tucker

following spread:

The Violinist, c. 1950

Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches

Collection: Mr. and Mrs. Roger D. Turner

With a Song in My Heart, 1951

Gouache on paper, 16 x 12 inches Collection: Bill and Ginny Birch


182


183

opposite:

Two Cats, c. 1955

Oil on canvas, 31.25 x 28 inches Collection: Kathleen S. O’Gara

Beach Umbrella, Boats and Sky, c. mid-1950s Gouache on paper, 23 x 29 inches

Collection: Lewis Sharps M.D. and Melanie Sharps


250mm

24.5mm

250mm

20mm

20mm

20mm

285mm

Doris Lee was considered among the top female artists—indeed among the top figurative artists, regardless of gender— in the American art world from the mid-1930s through the 1950s. At one point, postcards of her most well-known painting, Thanksgiving, outsold those of Grant Wood’s iconic American Gothic. She was esteemed in equally high terms for her commercial work, producing fabric and ceramic designs, prints, and award-winning illustrations for books and publications, like Life and Fortune. Such achievements and accolades notwithstanding, Lee was often dismissed because of her decorative, folkart style and her domestic subjects. Simple Pleasures: The Art of Doris Lee gives overdue recognition of Lee’s significant contributions to American art and brings together paintings, drawings, prints and ephemera spanning her forty-year career. Four essays provide an intriguing exploration of her life and work, paying respect to her ability to conjure joy in life’s simple pleasures and erasing the idea that her art was too unserious to take seriously. This book includes over 150 beautiful color illustrations (including over 70 plates of Lee’s work) and a chronology of the artist.

UK£40.00 / US$54.95 ISBN: 978-1-911282-67-9

20mm

221 North Main Street, Greensburg, PA 15601 thewestmoreland.org

Doris Lee-Case.indd 1

10/12/2020 11:57


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