Doris Lee

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Doris Emrick Lee
Born (1905-02-01)February 1, 1905
Aledo, Illinois
Died June 16, 1983(1983-06-16) (aged 78)
Nationality American
Education Kansas City Art Institute, California School of Fine Arts
Known for Painting, Printmaking
Spouse(s) Russell Lee, Arnold Blanch
Awards Logan Medal of the Arts
Patron(s) Works Progress Administration, Michigan State University, Colorado Springs Fine Art Center

Doris Emrick Lee (February 1, 1905 – June 16, 1983) was an American painter known for her figurative painting and printmaking. She won the Logan Medal of the Arts from the Chicago Art Institute in 1935. She is known as one of the most successful female artists of the Depression era in the United States.[1]

Biography and career[edit]

She was born in Aledo, Illinois and attended Ferry Hall School, a preparatory school for girls in Lake Forest, Illinois, from 1920-22. She graduated from Rockford College in 1927 and studied with the American Impressionist Ernest Lawson at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1929. In 1930 she attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

General Store and Post Office (1938), mural by Doris Emrick Lee at the Clinton Federal Building, Washington, D.C.

Her career took off in 1935 when her painting Thanksgiving won the Logan Prize in the annual show at the Art Institute of Chicago.[2] During the 1930s, she was commissioned to create several murals by the United States Treasury Department in Washington, DC. In 1937, Lee painted two murals in the Main Post Office in Washington, DC, and another in the Summerville, Georgia Post Office.[3] That same year the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired her 1936 painting Catastrophe for its permanent collection.[4] During the 1930s and 1940s she created a number of lithographs for the Associated American Artists. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lee undertook several commissions for Life magazine, including articles and illustrations on travel to such places as North Africa, Mexico, and Cuba. She taught at Michigan State University and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and she also worked as a magazine and book illustrator.[5]

In 1935, Doris Lee’s bustling scene of women preparing a Thanksgiving feast became the object of national headlines when it was first exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute and won the prestigious Logan Purchase Prize. The themes of Thanksgiving, rural customs, and family life, which Lee painted in a deliberately folksy manner, would have had great appeal to a country still in the midst of the Depression. Yet Josephine Logan, the donor of the prize, condemned the work’s broad, exaggerated style and founded the conservative Society for Sanity in Art movement in response. This controversy only brought Lee fame, and Thanksgiving has been recognized as one of the most popular nostalgic views of this American ritual.[6]

She was married to photographer Russell Lee from 1927 to 1939. In 1939 she married the artist and teacher Arnold Blanch, and for many years they lived and worked in Woodstock, NY. For a while she maintained a studio in New York City.[4]

Cultural references[edit]

Lee's 1935 painting Noon is briefly described in Vladimir Nabokov's classic 1955 novel Lolita: "... she [Lolita] wanted to know if the guy noon-napping on Doris Lee’s hay was the father of the pseudo-voluptuous hoyden in the foreground.”[7]


  1. ^ The Phillips Collection (2013). Made in the U.S.A.: American art from the Phillips Collection 1850-1970. Susan Behrends Frank. New Haven : Washington, D.C: Yale University Press ; The Phillips Collection. ISBN 9780300196153. 
  2. ^ Lee's Thanksgiving, Art Institute of Chicago
  3. ^ Smith, Roberta (April 7, 2008). "Offering a Painter for History's Reconsideration". New York Times. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Lowery Stokes Sims, Doris Emrick Lee 1904-1983 #16, The Landscape in Twentieth-Century American Art, Selections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rizzoli, NY 1991, p.57, 56.
  5. ^ "Doris Lee Biography". National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  6. ^ "Guide to the Doris Lee Papers" (PDF). Special Collections, Library and Research Center. National Museum of Women in the Arts. August 2006. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, Part 2, Chapter 12 (last paragraph), originally published in France by the Olympia Press, 1955, and in the United States by the Putnam Publishing Group, 1958.

External links[edit]