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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
Works by the artist may be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mead art Museum of Amherst College, Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Iowa.
Peter Hastings Falk (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 years of Artists in America, Volume II. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
“Jonas Lie.” AskART.
“New York Armory Show of 1913.” AskART.
“San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915.” AskART.
David B. Dearinger (Editor). Painting and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design. Vermont: Hudson Hills Press, 2004.
Rose V.S. Berry, “Jonas Lie: The Man and His Art,” American Magazine of Art 16 (February 1925).
William H. Gerdts and Carol Lowrey. Jonas Lie (1880-1940). New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2005.