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The Violinist, Woodstock” by Doris Lee, a midcentury painter who spent her summers in the Catskills.

The Violinist, Woodstock” by Doris Lee, a midcentury painter who spent her summers in the Catskills. 





Doris Lee is a worthy candidate for re-entry. (I later discovered that I had singled her out for praise in the past in reviews of group shows.) She was not a greatly original painter; she had no qualms about trying anything that struck her fancy, even if it had struck others’ fancies first. Milton Avery, whom she knew well, was clearly a big influence. But she made art intently from the early 1930s until the late 1960s, when poor health interceded. And she had just enough of everything — touch, color sense, humor, love of painting, sophistication — to distinguish herself.

Born Doris Emrick in Aledo, Ill., Ms. Lee graduated from college in her home state in 1927.

 Her early postgrad years included a first marriage, to Russell Lee (who later became a well-known photographer) and art studies in Paris; Munich; Kansas City, Mo.; and San Francisco, where she studied with the painter Arnold Blanch. She and Mr. Blanch later married, but not before she returned to Paris, where she studied with the erstwhile Cubist André Lhote.

Ms. Lee and Mr. Blanch settled in New York, where he taught at the Art Students League for many years. They summered in a big Victorian house in Woodstock, N.Y., and wintered in Florida, leisurely moving from town to town, while Mr. Blanch gave classes in various art centers.

In the 1930s Ms. Lee worked in the regional realism that was in vogue in those isolationist times. Her career took off in 1935, when her Rockwellesque “Thanksgiving Dinner” won the Logan Prize in the annual at the Art Institute of Chicago. The current exhibition at Wigmore focuses on the 1940s and ’50s, when she worked her way from Modernist reprises of early American folk art — like the charming “Violinist, Woodstock,” with its large, heavily draped window overlooking a dramatically flattened landscape — to a more abstracted style indebted to Avery as well as to Paul Klee, Ben Shahn and Alexander Calder. All three artists can be sensed in “Summer Souvenirs,” which gathers a still life of biomorphic shapes and delicate lines into a red jar.

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