Selma Lee, American, (1879 - 1968)

Born in New York on Nov. 5, 1879.  Early in life Selma married Louis F. Lee and made her home in NYC and Scarsdale for most of her life.  After studying with Charles Mielatz, Robert Henri, and Charles Curran, she traveled and worked in several places around the country including San Marino, CA in 1931-32.  She died in Tampa, FL in August 1968.  Member:  Chicago and Brooklyn Societies of Etchers. 

As a painter, etcher, and teacher, Lee was a member of several arts societies, including the Brooklyn Society of Etchers, Chicago Society of Etchers, and the Broadmoor Art Association. Ms. Lee studied under Mielatz, Robert Henri, and Charles Curran. Many of her prints are found among a national list of print exhibitions from 1880-1940. Selma Lee is listed in many notable books, including The Artists Bluebook, Who Was Who in American Art, Artists in California 1786-1940, Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary, and Mallet’s Index of Artists.

Little is known of Selma Lee’s life or artistic training. Sources place her in San Marino, California in 1932 and in Scarsdale, New York in 1934. She exhibited in Painters and Sculptors in Los Angeles in 1931, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1932 and was represented by a work entitled "Magnolias" at New York City’s National Academy of Design in 1933.

The most popular art styles of the 1930s were figurative, and the most popular themes revolved around the activities of ordinary Americans. Some artists painted social problems typical of their region. Others commented on American life in general. Lee would seem to have been inspired in this portrayal of a black sharecropper and his family by the contemporaneous works of Thomas Hart Benton.

The nature of this category of art is indicated by its subject matter: Americans rather than Europeans; backwoods cabins rather than Parisian walk-ups; and flat expanses of Midwest or Southern farmland rather than the hills of Florence or Provence.

Lee’s lyrical painting, with its patterned landscape, furrowed field, serpentine cabbage patch and stitch-like tomato plants, shares similarities with Benton’s rural scenes. Her farmer is larger than life and seems to have extra muscles and joints. Spaces are broken and oddly juxtaposed. The expressive distortions of facial geometry and the theatrically exaggerated feet are also characteristic of Benton.

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