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"For me, art should not be too cerebral. It is for rejoicing. As long as it bears the stamp of personality, that it communicates, and the over-all image is an aesthetic entity, I will have fulfilled the eternal plea, 'Art for Heaven's Sake.'"
Described by the New York Times as one of the best landscape artists of his day, Lee Gatch depicted nature in lyrical, abstract terms. He was born near Baltimore to a family of contractors and engineers who opposed his artistic ambitions. In spite of their disapproval, Gatch traveled to Europe to study art in 1925. Upon his return, he could not sell much of his work, perhaps because in his determination to follow his own vision, he shunned all contemporary movements.
Before establishing himself as an artist, Gatch painted murals for the WPA during the Great Depression. Much of the success he ultimately achieved was due to the support of his wife, artist Elsie Driggs, who encouraged him to work in spite of his alcoholism. A leading colorist, Gatch painted with a richly diverse palette of sensual, brilliant colors.
Influenced by French cubism, Gatch's early paintings were loosely figurative, though his work grew progressively more abstract. Intrigued by texture, Gatch worked increasingly with mixed media, creating collages that blended paint with textiles or stone.
Lee Gatch at National Academy of Design, 1967. Photograph by Peggy Lewis. James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Education and Training
Maryland Institute of Art, Maryland, 1920-1924
American School at Fountainbleau, France, 1924
Connection to Bucks County
Gatch lived in Lambertville, New Jersey, with his wife, artist Elsie Driggs, from 1935 until his death in 1968. Gatch chose Lambertville because he was inspired by its woodlands and because he was personally acquainted with Peter Keenan, founder of New Hope magazine and leader of the Bucks County Modernists' New Group and Independents. After initially renting the late impressionist Robert Spencer's home at Rabbit Run in New Hope, the couple purchased a small, run-down stone house that lacked indoor plumbing on Coon Path in Lambertville, New Jersey. Gatch delighted in his rustic surroundings, creating a studio out of the outhouse. Withdrawing from the area's artistic communities, Gatch thrived on his self-imposed isolation and his communion with nature.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Gatch married artist Elsie Driggs in 1932. Driggs was a noted Precisionist painter from New York. Gatch had met Bucks County artist Peter Keenan in England. Keenan founded New Hope magazine and was one of the founders of the New Group and the Independents. Gatch knew the members of these two organizations but was never a member of either one. He never exhibited at Phillips' Mill.
Lee Gatch with Elsie Driggs at National Academy of Design, 1967. Photograph by Peggy Lewis.
Major Solo Exhibitions
First exhibition in 1927, followed by more than seventeen one-man shows, New York, New York
J.B. Neumann, New York, New York, 1927, 1932, 1937
Willard Gallery, New York, New York, 1943
New Art Circle, New York, New York, 1946, 1949
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, New York, 1954
Phillips Art Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1954, 1956
World House Galleries, New York, New York, 1958
Lee Gatch Exhibition, Phillips Art Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1988
Major Group Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1939, 1941, 1944-1946, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1958, 1960, 1964, 1966
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1941, 1961, 1963
Venice Biennale, Italy, 1950, 1956
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, 1960
Staempfli Gallery, New York, New York, 1965, 1967
Traveling Exhibition, National Galleries, Washington, DC; Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, Missouri; and Newark Museum, New Jersey; 1971-1972
New Hope Modernists, 1917-1950, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1991
Carved, Incised, Gilded and Burnished: The Bucks County Framemaking Tradition, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2000-2001
Coming Home: Impressionism and Modernism in the New Hope Arts Community, Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2003-2004
Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections, Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2005-2006
Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan
Seventeen paintings, Duncan Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Joseph H. Hirschorn Collection, New York, New York
Morton D. May Collection, St. Louis, Missouri
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
James A. Michener, Collection of 20th Century Paintings, Austin, Texas
Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
Watson Blair Prize, Art Institute of Chicago, 1957
Temple Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1960
First Prize, 27th Biennial, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1961
National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1967
Affiliations and Memberships
The Ten, New York, 1937
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