Jonas Lie was born in Moss, Norway, in 1880, to a gifted Norwegian-American family. His father was a civil engineer, one of his aunts was the great pianist Erika Lie Nieesn, and his namesake uncle the famous Norwegian author Jonas Lie. In 1892, Lie was sent to live with his cousin Christian Skredsvig for three months and received drawing instruction from him. His studies were cut short when his father passed away. Lie then went to live with his aunt and uncle in Paris where he attended a small private art school. The following year he came to New York City where he reunited with his mother and sister, later moving with them to Plainfield, New Jersey. From 1893 to 1897 Lie studied at Dr. Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture School where he was encourage to draw and paint. During this time he attended evening classes at the National Academy of Design and furthered his art studies at the Cooper Union and the Art Students League of New York. After graduating from Felix Adler’s School Lie worked at Manchester Mills in New York as a shirt designer, a position he held for nine years. His design job combined with his art classes established the foundation of skills Lie would later rely upon as an artist.
Early in his career Lie’s paintings were chosen for various art shows including ones at the national Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The artist William Merritt Chase purchased two of Lie’s works during this time. His painting A Mill Race won Lie his first silver medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis in 1904 and the following year three of his landscape works were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy exhibition in the company of fellow artists Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, William Merritt Chase, and Mary Cassatt.
Lie returned to Norway in 1906 to reconnect with the Norwegian side of his family. During this trip he also traveled to Paris and was profoundly influenced by Monet’s use of color and light, which can be seen reflected in some of Lie’s seascapes. Upon his return to Plainfield he quit his job at Manchester Mills and began his artistic career offering art classes in New York. This time period saw a shift in the subjects of Lie’s paintings, a reflection of his interests in the group The Eight, precursors to what later evolved into the Ashcan school. Lie’s canvases began representing more urban settings focusing on the lives of workingmen. Whether painting a rustic landscape or a city street, his work combined a mixture of realism and impressionism. Lie would add his own poetic expression into each piece through his interpretative use of color and light. As Lie said, “art is not an emotional expression; it is a controlled expression of an emotion.”1 The artist was also actively involved in mounting the famous 1913 Armory Show, where four of his own paintings were shown.
One of the pinnacles of Lie’s career came from his Panama Canal series. With financial backing from a neighbor Lie went down to Panama where he painted thirty canvases showing the epic endeavor of building the canal. The paintings were first exhibited at Knoedler’s in January 1914 and achieved great success with attendance exceeding 2000 people in a single day. From this show The Conquerors was bought by the Metropolitan Museum and Culebra Cut was purchased by Detroit Museum of Art. The rest of the works were kept as an entity by Lie. Later twelve of the Panama Canal series were purchased anonymously and presented to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
In 1922, Jonas Lie bought Howland Cottage in the Adirondacks to be near to his wife Inga who was receiving tuberculosis treatment at Saranac Lake. During this time he painted many winter landscapes reminiscent of his native Norway. During Lie’s stay in the Adirondacks he also met and tutored the young Paul Sample who was there to visit his brother at the same sanitarium. After his wife’s death Lie and his daughter returned to New York where he became quite active socially as well as professionally with the New York City art scene. From 1934-1939 Lie served as the president of the National Academy of Design, despite having led a protest against their jury system fifteen years earlier. After his death in January 1940 a memorial exhibition was arranged by the executors of Lie’s estate later that year showing fifty of the artist’s paintings. Lie was also honored posthumously by the US Marine Commission who named a Liberty ship after him. Jonas Lie attained great success as an artist during his lifetime and will long be remembered for his views of Panama, New York City, and the New England coast.
Written and compiled by Yingxi Gong
1880 Born on April 29th in Moss, Norway 1892 Received drawing instruction from Christian Skredsvig 1892 Went to Paris to live with uncle after his father’s death 1893 Joined his mother and sister in New York City 1893-1897 Studied at Dr. Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture School and its summer
painting course in Provincetown, MA 1893-1906 Attended evening classes at the National Academy of Design 1897-1906 Designed shirts at Manchester Mills in New York
Studied at Cooper Union and the Art Students League 1906 Returned to Norway and to Paris to paint and visit family
Helped mount Armory Show 1907 Married Charlotte Egede Nissen 1909 Returned to Europe, painted in Oslo, Lillehammer and Paris 1913 Armory Show, New York City
Traveled to Panama to paint the Panama Canal 1915 Divorced Charlotte 1916 Married Inga Sontum, a well-known Norwegian ballet dancer 1919 Founded the Society of American Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers 1926 Wife Inga dies 1929 12 of his series of Panama Canal was presented to the U.S. Military
Academy at West Point as a memorial to U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers Colonel George W. Goethels 1932 Appointed to the Art Commission of the City of New York
Made Knight of the Order of St. Olav (in Norway) 1934-1939 Elected President of the National Academy of Design
Organized the art exhibition of the 1939 New York World’s Fair 1936 Taught at the Du Cret School of Art, Plainfield 1939 Founded the Norwegian Arts and Crafts Club 1940 Died in New York City on January 10th
1904 Silver Medal at St. Louis Exposition 1914 First Hallgarten prize National Academy of Design 1915 Silver medal at Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco 1916 Richard Greenough Memorial Prize Newport Art Association RI 1925 Gold Medal of Honor, Philadelphia Art Week 1925 First Prize of Oscar H. Haugan Prize, Chicago Norske Klub 1927 First Prize of Michelson & Rongstad Prize, Chicago Norske Klub 1927 The Carnegie Prize, National Academy of Design 1928 Olympic Award, Amsterdam 1929 Maida Gregg Memorial Prize, National Arts Club 1935 Jennie Sesnan Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 1936 Saltus Medal for Merit, National Academy of Design 1937 Adolph and Clara Obrig Prize, National Academy of Design
1905 Initial solo exhibition at the New Gallery, New York 1905 Pratt Institute, New York 1910 Madison Galleries, New York 1924 Memorial Art Gallery, New York 1940 Memorial Exhibition at the Grand Central Art Galleries, New York
1903-40 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 1904 Saint Louis Exposition Annual Exhibition 1907-39 Corcoran Gallery biennials, Washington D.C. (16 times) 1913 Armory Show, NYC 1914-37 National Academy of Design (4 times) 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, CA 1916 Newport Art Association, Rhode Island 1917-37 Society of Independent Artists, NYC (3 times) 1925 Philadelphia Art Week 1925-27 Chicago Norske Klub (twice) 1927 High School Art Association, Springville, Utah 1929 National Arts Club, NYC 1932 Whitney Museum of American Art
Associate of the National Academy of Design, 1912 (elected president in ‘34)
National Academician, National Academy of Design, 1925
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1934
American Federation of Arts
National Art Club, life member
Lotos Club, life member
Boston Art Club, honorary member
Three Arts Club, honorary member
Studio Club, honorary member
Salmagundi Club, honorary member
Municipal Art Commission of the City of New York
Municipal Art Society of New York
National Institute of Arts & Letters
Art Commission Association
1932 Knight of Order of St. Olav 1936 American Roll of Honor, National Institute of Immigrant Welfare