Long Overlooked, Leading 20th-Century American Artist Doris Lee Is Celebrated Once Again in Traveling Exhibition

  • January 18, 2022 15:00

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“Thanksgiving” by Doris Lee, 1935. Oil on canvas, 28-1/8 by 40-1/8 inches. The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund, 1935.313. ©Estate of Doris Lee, Courtesy D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc. Photo: Art Resource, NY.
“Off to Auction” by Doris Lee, 1942. Oil on canvas, 24½ by 35½ inches. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. ©Estate of Doris Lee, Courtesy D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc. Photo Dwight Primiano.
“Fruits of Pennsylvania” by Doris Lee, 1946-47. Oil on canvas, 35¼ by 28 inches. The Penn Art Collection, University of Pennsylvania. ©Estate of Doris Lee, Courtesy D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc. Photo Candace diCarlo.
Doris Lee with “Portrait of Judy Marcus,” July 6, 1954. Image: Roy Stevens; Doris Lee Papers, Archives of Women Artists, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center

Pennsylvania's Westmoreland Museum of American Art premiered Simple Pleasures: The Art of Doris Lee, which is now set to travel to three other museum venues as part of a national exhibition tour. The Westmoreland’s Chief Curator, Barbara L. Jones partnered with Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, to co-curate the exhibition, which heads next to the Figge Art Museum in February (see schedule at end).

Simple Pleasures: The Art of Doris Lee features 77 of the most notable and compelling works of art by Doris Lee (1905-1983). Using a vibrant color palette, Lee sparks feelings of playfulness and humor in her paintings, drawings, prints, and commissioned commercial designs for fabric and pottery. Simple Pleasures includes works by the artist spanning from the 1930s through the 1960s from both public and private collections and gives overdue recognition to Lee’s significant contributions to American art. A selection of ephemera, such as product advertisements for the American Tobacco Company and General Foods who commissioned paintings from Lee, will also be included in the exhibition.

“I was thrilled to be co-curator with my colleague Melissa Wolfe of this important exhibition on the life’s work of Doris Lee. I have admired Lee’s work for many, many years and through my research, found her tenacity as an artist inspiring. She found the humor in life, and the joy she took in recreating those simple pleasures is revealed in her paintings, prints and commercial commissions,” stated Jones.

Wolfe explained, “Reconsidering the art of Doris Lee allows us to realize the often over-looked complexities of the American art world during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Lee is an exemplar of how many leading female and figurative artists found outlets to produce extraordinary works of art that challenge the artists’ marginalization both in their day and often still today. Lee’s mastery in both the commercial and the fine art worlds reflects the remarkable breadth of her abilities.”

Doris Lee (1905-1983), Oranges and Avocados, c. 1950s, Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Booth, Jr. and Burrell Group, Inc., 2009.10.

Known as one of the foremost American artists during the 1930s and 1940s, Lee was a leading figure in the Woodstock Artist’s Colony. Decades after World War II, Lee responded to the rise of Abstract Expressionism with skill and agility and her own sense of grace, developing her own visual style. By taking a modernist approach and using clean, abstract lines, Lee’s body of work merges the reduction of abstraction with the appeal of the everyday and offers a coherent visual identity that successfully bridged various artistic “camps” that arose in the post-World War II era, truly depicting scenes of the simple pleasures of everyday life.

“Although she had a successful career, Doris Lee was often dismissed because of her decorative, folk art style and her domestic subjects. However, her indulgence in these seemingly simple pleasures, or the deep observation of the mundane activity that surrounds us, permit us to celebrate the everyday. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is so important that we all take stock and gratefully embrace the simple pleasures in our own lives,” said Anne Kraybill, Director/CEO of the Museum.

A 240-page fully illustrated, full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition and includes four essays that provide an intriguing exploration of Lee’s life and comprehensive body of 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 be taken seriously. The catalogue is available for sale now online.

The exhibition will travel nationally to these three additional venues:

Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA (February 5 – May 8, 2022)

Doris Lee (1905-1983), The View, Woodstock, 1946, Oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 44 inches, The John and Susan Horseman Collection of American Art.

Vero Beach Museum of Art, FL (June 5 – September 18, 2022)

Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN (October 30, 2022 – January 15, 2023)

A current exhibition (through January 28) of Doris Lee is on view at D. Wigmore Fine Art in New York.

Read more in The New York Times.

Tags: american art

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