Black and white snow-covered landscape with a train in the foreground and tree-lined hills in the background.
Catalog #: 
4
Date: 
20th Century
Artist: 
Subject Matter: 
Landscape

Medium: Silkscreen
Edition: 12/13
Size: 20 x18 in (image)
Location: Not on view
Donor: Donated by E.F. Lindquist; conservation and exhibition generously supported by Professor Emeritus H. Dee and Myrene Hoover.

Bibliography

"Art: Doris Lee: An American Painter with a Humorous Sense of Violence,” Life Magazine 3 no. 12( September 20, 1937): 44-47.

“Art: Woodstock: Catskill Colony Has Nurtured Some Great Names.” Life Magazine 5, no. 8 (August 22, 1938): 24-27.

“Art and Artists Gain Greater Fame as Christmas Cards Become New Art Medium.” Life Magazine 35, no. 22 (November 30, 1953): 114-115.

“By-Passing the Chromo.” Art Digest 17, no. 5 (December 1, 1942): 13.

“Doris Lee’s Americana Shown in New York.” Art Digest 10, no. 12 (March 15, 1936): 20.

“Doris Lee Paints Arab World on Trip from Tangier to Tunis.” Life Magazine 33, no. 19 (November 10, 1952): 109-112.

“Doris Lee’s Tropic Tour.” Life Magazine 22, no. 19 (May 12, 1947): 72-78.

Henkes, Robert. American Women Painters of the 1930s and 1940s: The Lives and Work of Ten Artists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991.

“Hollywood Gallery: A Painter’s Portfolio of Impressions of Movie City by Doris Lee.” Life Magazine 19, no. 16 (October 15, 1945): 84-89.

“Modern Living: Doris Lee Offers the Southern Negro as a Source of Fashion Inspiration.” Life Magazine 11, no. 23 (December 8, 1941): 96-97.

“Movie of the Week: The Harvey Girls: Doris Lee Paints Waitresses who Helped Civilize the West.” Life Magazine 19, no. 23 (December 3, 1945): 82-86.

"Oklahoma! Great Musical Show Sits for its Portrait on its First Birthday.” Life Magazine 16, no. 10 (March 6, 1944): 82-84.

Smith, Roberta. “Last Chance: Offering a Painter for History’s Reconsideration.” New York Times, April 7, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/07/arts/design/07chan.html?_r=0

Keywords: 
Regionalism, Representational, Landscape, Print, Nature, WPA, Train

More about Doris Lee

1905-1983
Nationality: 
American
Biography: 

Doris Lee’s paintings and prints follow in Iowa-native Grant Wood’s Regionalist style, which emphasized small towns and uniquely American scenes. Lee’s simplified shapes, whimsical lines, and bold colors imbue her scenes with playfulness and ingenuity.

Lee was born in Aledo, Illinois, and inherited her grandparents’ interest in art (her great-grandfather turned his attention to oil painting after he retired from farming and her grandmother enjoyed carving wood). Her art took her to Paris to study with André Lhote, who worked in the cubist style, and then to the Kansas City Institute of Art to work with Ernest Lawson. Her painting Thanksgiving from c. 1935 garnered her national attention after it won the Logan Purchase Prize in 1935 while on exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting depicts a group of women busily preparing their family’s holiday dinner. Pastel and primary colors dominate the painting and give it a cheerful tone, which is enhanced by a little girl in the bottom right corner giving a scrap to an eager cat (and displaying her knickers to the viewer). The simplified lines and humor in the painting set her work apart from artists working in more conservative styles. The lighthearted representation of the subject matter roiled Josephine Logan, who funded the Logan Purchase Prize. The controversy put Lee’s work on the national stage.

In the 1930s, Lee also participated in the Works Progress Administration, winning a competition to paint a mural for a post office in Washington, DC. In 1931, she and her husband moved to an artist’s colony in Woodstock, NY, and remained there until 1968. A lifelong admirer of the outdoors, she fished, chopped down trees, hiked, and produced art inspired by the life in the pastoral setting. Although Thanksgiving illustrates the humor in the mundane, Lee also explored the sometimes-harsh nature of life. She has said in regard to her work, “What I feel is a sort of violence.” In this way, she represents the flip side to the gaiety lurking under the surface.

Lee’s keen observation and eye for color lent itself to multiple assignments for Life Magazine. In 1941, she traveled throughout the southern United States to depict the style of African Americans. Looking at her work for this assignment today, it is clouded by issues of cultural appropriation, but Lee brought her same careful eye, humor, and compassion to the women she depicted in this series as she did to her other work. Lee’s talents found a fitting subject in 1944 when Life asked her commemorate the completion of the first year’s run of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma! The works “have bounce, slyness, and good humor.”* In 1945, Life sent her to Hollywood to capture its glamour. The subject played to her penchant for lively color and wit. Of the experience, she said, “[B]ehind all the Hollywood front, I found everyone very human and had a very good time.”** Next, Life asked  Lee to document Hollywood and the tropics in North American, including Cuba, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pan-Am Highway in 1947. She captured the everyday life of people as they relax on their balcony, tend to farm animals, go to the market, and participate in local festivals. Again in 1952, she obliged Life by producing a painting series from the drawings and memories of her trip to Northern Africa. In addition to working closely with Life in the 1940s and 1950s, Lee also forged relationships with other companies to bring her work to a mass audience. In 1943, she contributed to Swift and Co.’s calendar, and in 1953, she and other artists designed Christmas cards for Hallmark.  

In the 1960s, Lee’s health forced her to pull back from her art. Throughout her career, she experimented with different approaches to investigate everyday life. As a writer at Art Digest observed, “Her art is mostly characterized by refreshing honesty, a peculiar and personal reaction toward everyday scenes, a zestful sense of humor and a pleasing color sense.”*** Her papers are collected at the National Museum of Women in the Arts Archives.

* “Oklahoma! Great Musical Show Sits for its Portrait on its First Birthday,” Life 16, no. 10(March 6, 1944): 82.
** “Hollywood Gallery: A Painter’s Portfolio of Impressions of Movie City by Doris Lee,” Life (October 15, 1945): 84.
*** “Doris Lee’s Americana Shown in New York,” Art Digest 10, no. 12 (March 15, 1936), 20.