Saturday 10 May 2008

Doris Emrick Lee (1905 - 1983)

I have become obsessed with Doris Lee.
Is that allowed?

Doris Lee by Yasuo Kuniyoshi 1940

She had a wide ranging art education
and travelled and studied in France and Italy
at a time of Impressionism and Abstract painting.
She came home and developed a unique style
which was dismissed by some as 'whimsical'
but was recognised at an early stage by influential institutions
such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Johnnie Appleseed - no date

I want to know why she started her career
painting detailed images of energy and humour
and finished her painting life
with flat abstractions of mangrove swamps.

High Tide, Mangroves - no date

Was it because the sponsor of the Logan Prize
at the Chicago Art Institute that she won in 1935
with the intimate and delightful Thanksgiving
was outraged by the decision of the judges?

Thanksgiving - 1935

Was it because the murals that she painted
for the new Post Office in Washington, D.C.
were criticized as caricatures
"the heads of the figures were too large for their bodies"
by the Inspector and lost their sparkle
as she attempted to fulfil the conditions of the commision?

Afternoon Train - 1945

Was it because she married Arnold Blanch,
head of the influential school of artists at Woodstock
and acted as hostess and patron to a continuous stream
of young artists such as Bruce Gregory?

Arnold Blanch by Konrad Cramer 1950

Was it some deeper force within her
which rejected the optimism of her youth?

Sun and Surf - no date

I don’t know the answer to this question
but I wish that I had met her.
In a transcript of an interview that she gave in 1964
to Joseph Trovato of the Smithsonian Institution.
she describes her house and says:

it's a difficult thing to pass by an old beautiful bottle on the beach or an old broken piece of iron or artifact...we really have too many things, they clutter up our house a little bit.

Basket of Lilacs - no date

I think I would have liked her.


carrie said...

It is so interesting to see how multi-talented artists are, and in so many different ways and mediums.

And there is no way to really know without asking them. Even then, there might not be a clear answer.

I think I would've liked her too though, her work is beautiful.

RW said...

thanks for the introduction.

Anonymous said...

I always find it interesting to see the evolution of an artist's work over time. Her style changed dramatically over the years it seems.

Isn't it wonderful when you can see a piece of art and then feel such a connection with someone?

I enjoyed learning more about Doris Lee. Thank you, Alice.

Mary said...

I enjoyed this lesson too - although I feel an underlying sadness exists there too.

Mary said...

There is also a similarity here to an Australian painter - Grace Crowley - who evolved from very realistic painting through cubism to quite abstract. Maybe their evolution as painters simply echoed the times.

Anonymous said...

Not a name that I knew, but I love her various styles. (I also love a painting with a head too big for a body)

blackbird said...

She describes my house to a tee.

Anonymous said...

What a beautifully laid out essay. I did not know Doris Lee, but my spiritual grandmother, Anita M. Smith, did. The Woodstock of her youth changed--and perhaps this impacted her art.

Unknown said...

She looks like a complicated person. Interesting essay. I think as you get older life gets very complicated. I love her later drawings, although her early style is also good. There are trends in art as there is in really understand it does need a context.

Anonymous said...

oh wow, how interesting!

I never knew about her but I love her paintings... especially her earlier work and that basked of lilacs!!!