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 Jonas Lie  (1880 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: New York / Norway      Known for: New England coastals and New York city scene painitng

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Jonas Lie
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jonas Lie: Norwegian Silver in the American Melting Pot (1)
by Dina Tolfsby, Curator of the Norwegian-American Collection,
National Library of Norway
Jonas Lie (1880-1940) became one of the best-known American landscape painters in his lifetime. (2)  When he arrived in New York at the age of 13, he got an American education and art training.  Although he took an active part in Norwegian-American activities, he was regarded as an American artist even though most American publications mention that he is Norwegian-born.  His Norwegian background meant a lot to him.  He visited the country of his birth several times and worked as a bridge builder between his native and adopted country.  Like Ole Bull in the nineteenth century, he contributed to putting Norway on the map in America. Paradoxically, hardly anyone has heard about the painter Jonas Lie in Norway.  He was made Knight of the Order of St. Olav in 1932, but apart from a couple of interviews and a few scattered notices, there are not many traces of Jonas Lie the painter in Norway.  Why was this famous painter who even became president of the National Academy of Design in New York invisible in Norway? Another question is why Lie has been neglected after his death in critical histories of modern American art?  As early as in 1921 it was pointed out that few painters of any immigrant group had achieved the fame that Jonas Lie had, and according to the late professor Marion J. Nelson, the leading expert on Norwegian-American painters, Lie is “the most prominent of all Norwegian immigrant artists.”  (3)

Not only was Lie foremost among the Norwegian-American painters, he also earned recognition as one of America’s leading landscape artists during his lifetime.  When he died he was represented in 38 permanent collections including Musée de Luxembourg in Paris.  In spite of his success, no book has been written about him. Some scholarly articles, however, have been published. (4)  His work was covered regularly in numerous shorter articles in American magazines, bulletins of American art museums and galleries as well as by New York newspapers.  Norwegian-American newspapers such as Nordisk Tidende, Decorah-Posten and Skandinaven also carried articles about Lie.  (5)

Norwegian-American fine arts have not generally received much scholarly attention compared with other fields within Norwegian-American history.  Nelson suggests possible reasons for this in his article “Norwegian-American Painting in the Context of the Immigrant Community and American Art.” (6)  The majority of the Norwegian immigrants settled in rural areas and the folk art they had brought with them from Norway formed part of their daily lives.  An interest in the fine arts started to grow later when urban centers developed in Chicago, Minneapolis, Brooklyn, and Seattle in the 1870s.  Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, owns the largest collection of paintings which counts over 3000 works representing some 500 Norwegian-American artists.

Kristiania–Paris–New York
Jonas Lie was born in Moss, Norway, on April 29th, in 1880. (7)  His father was Norwegian and his mother an American from Hartford, Connecticut.  Sverre Lie, who was a civil engineer, had gone to the US in the 1870s and took part in the building of the New York Holland tunnel.  He married Helen Augusta Steele and by 1875 the family had settled in Kristiania, as the capital of Norway was then called. His father was a brother of Thomasine Lie who had married their cousin Jonas Lie, the famous Norwegian author, whom the painter is named after.  Their home was a meeting place for famous people such as Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Edvard Grieg, Stefan Sinding, and Georg Brandes.  Young Jonas was a talented boy. It was a gifted family, and he could well have become a musician.  He had piano lessons from the age of six.  It was, however, impossible for him to play the violin because he was born with a bad left arm, which was later operated on in Paris and again in New York. (8)

In 1892 his father died and 12-year-old Jonas was sent to stay with his aunt and uncle, Thomasine and Jonas Lie, in Paris.  Having already received drawing instruction from Christian Skredsvig (1854-1924) in Norway, he now attended a small private art school. The following year, he joined his mother and sisters in New York who lived in a boarding house run by a sister of his mother.  His mother had been left without means because the family money had been lost due to investments that proved worthless.  Lie later describes how they lived in poverty. Their only income was from the aunt’s borders. (9)  After the death of his aunt, they moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, which would always be a place of special affinity to Jonas Lie.

He entered Dr. Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture School, also called the Workingman’s School where he was encouraged to develop his talent for painting and drawing; he also attended evening classes at the National Academy of Design.  Only once did he receive plein-air instruction, this was in 1896 when his teacher, Dewing Woodward, took him to the historic fishing village Provincetown, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  Woodward was thrilled with the boy’s progress and later described his work in the studio as outstanding. (10)  When Jonas finished at Felix Adler’s School in 1897, he had to help support his family and got a job at Manchester Mills in Duane Street, New York, designing calico shirts, a position he had for nine years.  He was disciplined from the start. After work he continued his art training in evening classes at the National Academy of Design, later at Cooper Union and the Art Students League.  He acquired a keen sense of composition and design from his work at the mill.  

In 1906 Jonas Lie went back to Norway for the first time.  When he returned to Plainfield, his mother was dead and his sisters had moved to California.  The meeting with the Norwegian part of the family meant a lot to him, and a year later he married his cousin, Charlotte Egede Nissen.  The couple divorced in 1915, however, and the following year Lie remarried.  Inga Sontum was a well-known Norwegian ballet dancer and instructor from Oslo who was working in New York.  This was a happy marriage, but Inga died from tuberculosis ten years later.  Their son Erik Jonas died as a child while their daughter Sonja was her father’s companion after he became a widower.

On his return to Plainfield from Norway in 1906 he had quit his job at the cotton mill and decided to earn a living as an artist. He owned two dollars, got a room from his old landlord, put up a notice that he accepted pupils and started art classes. This was the beginning of a remarkable career. In the course of the following years he could afford a good studio in New York and gradually became quite affluent.

Lie moved in prominent circles.  Father and daughter were close friends of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The painting Amber Light (Amber Jack II) which Lie painted during a visit at Roosevelt’s summer home at Campobello Island, New Brunswick in 1933, bears the inscription “To Franklin D. Roosevelt in friendship and admiration from Jonas Lie 1933”.  This painting graced the wall of the oval office during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. (11)  When Lie was elected President of the National Academy of Design in 1934 he received the following greeting, “Hello Jonas, as one president to another.  How is Mimsy?” as Lie’s daughter Sonja was called.  She had been invited to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration on March 4, 1933. (12)

Father and daughter took an active part in New York society life.  When Sonja made her formal entrance into society, the event was covered in the major newspapers. With his keen interest in music, he did not miss many concerts in New York.  One of his paintings, a still life entitled Rhapsodie, was dedicated to Percy Grainger, a personal friend. Lie was also an eminent speaker who was able to nail any opponent in a dispute.  In 1934 he was elected president of the National Academy of Design.  In the fall of 1939, however, his health failed. As President of the Academy he had been working extremely hard with the organizing of the art exhibition of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.   He died in January 1940 from complications following a heart attack.  Jonas Lie is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Plainfield together with his wife Inga and their son, Erik Jonas.

“A New Note Had Been Struck in American Painting” (13)
On his way home from Norway in 1906, Lie had visited Paris and was profoundly influenced by Monet’s use of colour and light, an influence that is particularly apparent in his seascapes.  According to American art critics, Lie’s style develops as a combination of realism and impressionism.  His landscapes are characterised by a broad handling of pigment, which conveys an impressionistic sense of light and air created by his atmospheric light effects.

Jonas Lie’s Norwegian background also played an important part.  This was often noted by critics, and he once said that “All the keys and chords and harmonies of my work come from the North, and each year, when I know the midnight sun will soon be shining, I feel a pull which makes me go there and see it.”  A letter written in Lofoten in 1925 and printed in the catalogue for Lie’s exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in January 1926 illustrates this. Without realizing it, he says, he has used themes stemming from his early contact with Norway, such as the sea, the mountains, and the snow: “here [in Norway] I also find myself surrounded with birch and pine.” While actually painting on the coast of New England or in Canada, as he puts it, he has “subconsciously been drawn toward these themes…” (14)

Lie became an important representative of American art in the 1920s.  When he was twenty, his painting A Gray Day, had been accepted by the National Academy of Design.  Two years later, in 1903, the painting, A Winter Idyll, was accepted by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  One can imagine his joy when he heard that it had been bought by William Merritt Chase, who at the time ran the Chase Art School in New York.   He was puzzled, however, when the painting was returned.   He sent another painting to an exhibition at the Society of American Artists, using the same frame.  He was informed that this painting had also been sold to Chase.   It turned out that the first painting had been returned by mistake from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.   A new frame had to be bought in a hurry, and Lie later said with a smile that Chase evidently liked his frames.(15)  It must have been encouraging for a young artist that Chase bought two of his paintings in 1903.

In 1905 Lie exhibited 34 pictures in the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn Museum of Art. Between 1901 and the memorial exhibition in 1940 his work was shown all over America.   Between 1905 and 1938 Lie had 57 one-man shows, each including from 12 to 45 paintings.   He participated in important annual and biennial exhibitions at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington as well as most of the world fairs. (16)

Lie’s breakthrough was his Panama Canal series.  After an exhibit at the Folsom Gallery in New York in 1911 The New York Times critic expected that Lie would one day paint an epic.  He did not have to wait long.  Only two years later, Lie saw a motion picture that described the construction of the Panama Canal and was fascinated, but did not have the money to go there.  His Scottish neighbour in Plainfield gave him two blank cheques.  Lie went and spent three months there as the guest of General George W. Goethals, the engineer who was in charge of this formidable undertaking.  The result was 30 oil canvases depicting the construction of the canal before the water was led through it.  Three types of work are represented in some of the largest paintings: excavation (The Conquerors, Culebra Cut and Toil); construction (The Gates of Pedro Miguel and Crane at Miraflores); and finally concrete (Heavenly Host). (17)  Busy trains, huge cranes and locks figure in the paintings, and the leitmotif is man’s victory over nature.

The series was exhibited at Knoedler’s in New York in January 1914 where the attendance could exceed 2000 people in one single day.  The Metropolitan bought The Conquerors, and this painting has been exhibited regularly and included in exhibitions on five different occasions since 1939, the last time in the travelling exhibition "The Landscape in Twentieth-Century American Art: Selections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art" (1991).  Culebra Cut was bought by Detroit Museum of Art.  At this stage, Lie decided to keep the series as an entity.  The series was most favourably received by the critics and was exhibited throughout the country.  As Wm. B. M’Cormick put it, “In these paintings Jonas Lie has attempted and achieves two things: to interpret the epic quality of the profound genius and the conquering labor that has gone into the building of the Panama Canal and to preserve a pictorial record of that state of its making which lay between the plan and the fruition.” (18)  Many critics claimed that the series should be bought by the nation.  It did not happen then, but in 1929 a private person who preferred not to disclose his identity, bought 12 of the paintings which were presented to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Jonas Lie was guest of honour when the paintings were unveiled in Cullum Memorial Hall as a memorial to Goethals.  Lie tried to repeat the success of the Panama Canal series with a series of paintings from the Bingham Copper Mine in Utah. These paintings were bought by the mine owners, but were less favourably received. (19)  

Lie had won critical acclaim before his major breakthrough, and his work continued to receive positive critical commentary throughout his career.  As early as 1905, at the Pennsylvania Academy exhibition, Charles H. Caffin commented that the three pictures exhibited “include quite a wide range of expressions and mark the painter as sincere and original.”  This was in the company of painters such as Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, William Merritt Chase and Mary Cassatt. (20)  Two years later, The Craftsman carried an article about Lie.  In the author’s opinion the fact that “the blood of the North is truly in his veins is shown in many of the winter landscapes,” and he compared Lie with the Norwegian Frits Thaulow (1847-1906). (21)  When Heart of the Woods, Winter was exhibited in 1908 at the third annual exhibition of selected American paintings at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, the painting was highly praised and Lie was described as “one of the strongest of the younger painters” who “has been especially happy in his winter subjects.”  (22)

At the Folsom Galleries in New York in 1911, a shift is noticed regarding subjects.  In the beginning of his career, Lie painted Norwegian winter landscapes as well as American landscapes. At this exhibition there are paintings of workingmen at the waterfront, wharves and bridges, which point toward the influence of the urban realists.  According to one commentator, Lie “has become a scientist as well as a poet. His bridges rest on solid foundations and they are splendid mathematical constructions….the vital forceful construction of earth itself seems to underlie the imaginative beauty which Mr. Lie now puts into his painting.”  (23)

In 1915, the well-known art critic Christian Brinton wrote, “A new note had been struck in American painting.”  In his opinion Lie could never become a mere realist because of the poetic expression in his landscapes.  Brinton quotes Lie on color: “Color is the chief medium through which we attain pictorial expression; but color must be interpretative, not imitative.” (24)  Ten years later, Rose V. S. Berry claimed that Lie was one of America’s best painters.  In Berry’s opinion, Lie “is one of the few painters who surprises his public, season after season, and whose work is always acceptable.” Berry also notes that Lie had developed a mastery of composition and design from his work at the cotton mill, and that the “sum total has made the man an artist of high standards and a technician of rare skill.” (25)  The same year, F. Newlin Price contended that light was Lie’s metier and that he painted color above all things. Price also quotes Lie on color. “There is no such thing as the isolation of one color. Light and every color change according to the near position of another color.” Lie also said, “Art is not an emotional expression. It is a controlled expression of an emotion.” (26)  He was called “painter of light” and as it was once put, “Light is Mr. Lie’s own leading lady and she moves across his paintings with mystery and splendour.” (27)
Lie was more radical in his choice of subject at the start of his career.  Together with The Eight, he was among the first artists to paint the city with skyscrapers, bridges and industrial scenes and structures.  Occasionally he painted a still life, for instance The Black Teapot, which was included in the famous Armory Show in New York in 1913; Nasturtiums and Asters, which was shown at the Anglo-American Exposition in London in 1914, and Rhapsodie.

Landscapes and seascapes stand out as favourite motifs throughout his career.  He bought Howland Cottage in Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks in 1922, and the family lived there for a few years while his wife, Inga, received treatment for tuberculosis.  Many of his vigorous American winter landscapes and mountain scenes were painted in this period between 1922 and 1925 when the cottage was sold.  But he also went there to paint on later occasions.  Late in 1928 he was asked to do a series of paintings of Lake Kora and the Francis P. Garvan camp in The Adirondacks.  The Adirondack landscape resembles Norwegian valleys.  In the late 1920s and the 1930s he concentrated on seascapes with sailboats and small fishing harbors and found many of his motifs on the coast of New England and Canada, as well as in Bretagne and Cornwall.

Prizes and medals marked every step of his career.  He won his first medal in the St. Louis Purchase Exposition in 1904, a silver medal for A Mill Race, and another silver medal in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 for The Gates of Pedro Miguel.  Between 1914 and 1939 he received several prestigious awards and medals. Rockbound Coast, painted at Bar Harbor, Maine, which had already earned him a prize at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design in 1937, was purchased by the International Business Machines and selected by Mr. George Blumenthal, then President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to represent the United States at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 at an exhibition entitled "Contemporary Art of 79 Countries", where it won third prize. (28)

Lie gained tremendous success during his lifetime.  As it was summed up in The Index of Twentieth Century Artists in 1934, Lie had “steadily advanced through the ranks of lesser men to his present status as one of the best-known landscape painters in America.” (29)

A great artist and a great citizen
Lie believed that a person with the gifts of an artist should serve, as well as paint, and he played an important part on the art political scene.  In 1912 he was made an associate of the National Academy of Design.  Together with The Eight, he was among the organizers of the Armory Show in 1913.  Four of Lie’s paintings were exhibited: The Black Teapot, At the Aquarium, A Hill Top and The Quarry. (30)   In 1919 he was asked to join a group of young artists who wanted to change the jury system of the National Academy of Design.  They did not succeed, but their efforts led to the founding of the New Society of Artists.  This was one of his first acts of protest against the jury system of the Academy which did not allow the entries of young, radical artists. Nevertheless, he continued as an associate and was elected a National Academician in 1925.
Lie was convinced that children should be encouraged to appreciate art at an early age.  In 1921 he arranged an exhibition of 50 of his paintings in the Plainfield Public Library and invited teachers to bring their pupils.  Scores of young people from primary school and high school arrived every morning for three weeks to learn about composition, the importance of the medium of color and how to look at a picture.  The pupils returned with their families later.  Lie was publicly thanked with the words, “When pure beauty, with its ennobling influenced, is put within the reach of the people, a wonderful gift has been made; but when the creator of the beauty becomes the interpreter of his art, the value of the gift is enhanced many times.” The conclusion was that “Mr. Lie is not only a great artist; he is a great citizen!” (31)

Citizens in Plainfield wanted to purchase one of Lie’s paintings to honor him.  A fund of $5,000 was raised and the The Birches, painted at Woodstock, New York, is still to be found in the library of Plainfield City Hall.  There is a bronze plaque with the inscription, “Given by fellow citizens of Jonas Lie in recognition of his art and to adorn this building with its beauty.” (32)  In 1930 Lie donated a large mural painting to All Souls Church in Plainfield as a tribute to his wife Inga with the inscription, “Presented in Loving Memory of Her Mother Inga Sontum Lie by Sonja, October Nineteen, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Thirty.”    

In 1934 Lie was the first foreign-born person to be elected president of the National Academy.  This was one of the highest tributes possible in the art world. “An Admirable Choice” according to The Sun: “The man who undertakes the task and hopes to carry it off with distinction must have address, tact and that easy sureness which commands respect under all conditions.  That Mr. Lie possesses these qualities those who have met him know.” (33)  News-Week magazine also devoted a page to Lie’s presidency: “Jonas Lie Institutes a One-Man, Academy Revolution.” (34)  In an interview in The New York Times, Lie acknowledged that “The Academy must necessarily be conservative.”  He always stressed the importance of basic, formal training. But there were certain changes he would like to see, especially regarding the jury system.  Lie wanted to give younger artists a better chance to participate by increasing the number of invited paintings and sculptures and decreasing those required to pass the jury. (35)  Lie was a member of numerous juries himself both at the National Academy of Design and at other prestigious exhibitions. He was already a painter member of the Municipal Art Commission of New York, and as president of the Academy he also became ex officio member of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Three years before he died, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Lie could also create controversy as a spokesman for conservative values in art.  Three different occasions may serve as examples.  In 1932 the president of the Art Students League, John Sloan, invited a German contemporary artist, George Grosz, to teach at the League.  Lie, who was Director, opposed this decision. The result was that Grosz was not invited, and both Lie and Sloan resigned.  As it turned out Sloan’s resignation was accepted by the Board; Lie’s was not. (36) Another case which resulted in lots of press coverage took place August 31, 1934, when a young Slavic artist, John Smiuske, destroyed a painting entitled A Nightmare of 1934.  The painting satirized Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.  Lie was outraged at the caricature and put up a bail of $500 for John Smiuske.  Lie emphasized that he had acted as an individual and not in any official capacity.  In an open letter, the chairman of the left-wing Artists’ Committee of Action, published in Art Front, contended that Smiuske’s action echoed the book-burning of  Nazi Germany and demanded Lie’s resignation as Academy president because Lie was “an enemy of art and artists.” (37)  To Lie the mural was not a real work of art and Jere-Miah II–pseudonym of the artist–had been guilty of two unpardonable sins: “Bad taste, in choosing his subject, and plain cowardice in not signing his name to such an attack on the President.” (38)  He received many letters and telegrams supporting his intervention.

The third occasion was his fight with mural artists engaged through federal art programs in the mid-1930s.  “Art is not art when it’s propaganda,” Lie insisted. “If in a painting beauty carries more than propaganda, the propaganda is justifiable, but if a painting is merely propaganda in the guise of art, then I say down with it.” As painter member of the Municipal Art Commission, he obviously found many of the murals lacking in quality, “Some of it I have passed, “ he said, “approved of because I knew the walls on which it would be painted could very easily be white-washed over. We don’t consider the works so entirely permanent, you know.  And then, there is always the chance that the old, decrepit buildings, which the young are adorning will not outlast our own lifetime.”  This led to an attack in Art Front headed “Nobody Loves Him,” that claimed that Lie did not like mural painters and they did not like him and wondered “why Mr. Lie continues to be the painter member of the Municipal Art Commission.”  But according to Peyton Boswell, Jr. even the “most extreme radical painter has to admit that Lie knows his business, that he is a master technician.” (39)
Jonas Lie resigned from his position as president of the Academy in October 1939 because his health was failing.  His resignation was accepted “on the grounds of ill health, with deepest appreciation of his unselfish and distinguished services to the National Academy and to American art…” (40)  Shortly afterwards, when he was interviewed by a reporter from the New York World Telegram, he said, “I wouldn’t consider I’d made my points if I didn’t have enemies,” and continued, “The only things I regret in my six years as president of the Academy were the few times I compromised.” He added, ”I tried to get the younger element into the Academy and I think we succeeded.”   Hobart Nichols followed Lie as president of the Academy. In his first presidential address, he spoke of Lie’s accomplishments: “the Academy benefited by his dynamic and courageous leadership. At no time during its long history has there been such sharp division of opinion on the subject of art as there has been during the past decade. Mr. Lie insisted that the Academy should be liberal and absorb the best of the modern trends. To this end he worked diligently, with deep and sincere convictions.” (41)  Lie is later described as one of the most open-minded leaders of the Academy. (42)  

In 1936, in the middle of the strife with the mural artists, Jonas Lie, the surgeon Alexis Carrell, and the composer Walter Damrosch received the first annual National Institute of Immigrant Welfare Awards of Merit, which was given to “Distinguished citizens of foreign birth who have made significant contributions to American life.

At Lie’s death in January 1940, all the major national newspapers carried extensive obituaries emphasizing his achievements both as an artist and as president of the National Academy of Design.  The telegrams from the National Academy of Design, The American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters were published in New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times.   In his telegram to Sonja Lie, Mayor F. H. La Guardia said that New York had lost one of its finest citizens, its greatest artists, and its most beloved civic leaders.  The first funeral service took place at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York. Mayor La Guardia and Wilhelm Munthe de Morgenstierne, Norwegian Minister to the United States, represented Lie’s new country and his homeland respectively, heading a large group of honorary pall bearers. 400 people were present and a choir of 60 voices sang.  The second service took place the same day in Plainfield in All Souls Unitarian Church, the church Lie had belonged to since 1903.

He had spent the summer of 1939 in Maine and at the Gaspé peninsula, Canada, and returned with many new paintings.  He had planned to have a large exhibition at the Grand Central Galleries in New York.  As it turned out it was the executors of his estate who arranged a memorial exhibition in May 1940 with 50 paintings.  Several important people were among the sponsors. (43)  He was also honoured posthumously when the US Marine Commission named a Liberty ship after him: S.S. Jonas Lie was launched in September 1944.

Acknowledged in America–Invisible in Norway
“Jonas Lie was a remarkable example of one who achieved in a single lifetime the complete Americanization which usually takes several generations, and as he identified himself entirely with his adopted country, he was able to make a peculiarly rich contribution to American life.” (44)  The obituary in The American Scandinavian Review was representative of the many in the American and Norwegian-American press.  The news of Jonas Lie’s death was telegraphed to Norway.  An obituary in the Norwegian newspaper Tidens Tegn observed that in Norway most people would not know what this implied, but that this Norwegian-American artist was highly regarded and had played an important part in American art.  His significance for Norway’s reputation in America could not be overestimated. (45)

Lie worked as a bridge builder between America and Norway.  
The American-Scandinavian Foundation was founded in 1911 with John A. Gade as its first president.  In December the same year, a Scandinavian Art Exhibit featuring some 150 paintings from Denmark, Norway and Sweden opened.  The catalogue was written by Christian Brinton who along with J. Nilsen Laurvik supported Scandinavian art in America.  Jonas Lie was chairman of the reception committee which consisted of Scandinavian-American artists.

The intention was to send a retrospective exhibition of American art to the capitals of the three Scandinavian countries in 1914.  As it turned out, this did not happen until 1929. The travelling exhibition, covering the period from 1750 to 1930 and sponsored by the American Scandinavian Foundation, was shown in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Munich in the spring of 1930.  Each local exhibit was opened with pomp and circumstance and was well received by the public.  Lie was among the organisers and was represented with a painting. (46)  According to Lie, this exhibition would have given Norwegians a unique opportunity to learn about American art. He was appalled that Norway did not want it.  

In an interview with Nordisk Tidende in New York on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday in 1930, he had a bone to pick with Norwegian art criticism: America had done much to further Norwegian art, but Norway had done little in return.  Lie was convinced that the exhibition would have made the Norwegian public see things differently.  In his opinion the Norwegian attitude had not changed since 1914 and Norwegians in general still had scant knowledge of American art.  When asked how this could be, Lie’s only reply was: "Jens Thiis". (47) According to Lie, American art was underrated in Norway because Norwegians harbored the misconception that there was no artistic tradition in America. They thought that Norwegian emigrants encountered Indians and cowboys and farmers in furs, when the fact was that New York had long been a center of music and art. (48)

Olga Graff voiced this attitude when she wrote in 1929: “Of upright people with an understanding of art, it can hardly be denied that the Americans are still considerably behind the Europeans when it comes to artistic inspiration. An appreciation of natural beauty, which is so highly developed in the Scandinavian countries, is of newer vintage there and incredibly underdeveloped.”  Lie, on the other hand, emphasized that American painters had developed an American touch at an early stage as expressed in the landscapes by the Hudson River School, and later by the American Impressionists: “It was not the boulevards, but 157th Street and the American Avenue of the Allies, Fifth Avenue, which [Childe] Hassam interpreted.” The same view was offered by Watson Forbes in 1939: “Ignorance of our art may explain why America is so often misjudged by natives and foreigners alike.” He explained how philosophers and scientists looked to Germany, artists to France and writers to England, but emphasized that “American artists have become concerned primarily with America. (49)

Lie himself was among the first to choose city scenes of New York and industrial structures as subjects for art. In his opinion Americans had their own artistic traditions and established institutions.  Arriving in Oslo in 1934 as the newly elected president of the National Academy of Design, Lie was interviewed by Morgenbladet.  When asked if he was going to exhibit in his old country, he replied that “her i Norge regner man mig ikke for noget.” (here in Norway there is no regard for me)   He added that perhaps Jens Thiis, director of the National Gallery, would have recognized him if he were a Gothic head rather than an American painter.   The journalist wondered why he was only able to find a single reference to Jonas Lie and what was wrong with the Norwegian mentality. (50)  In Nordmanns-Forbundet’s magazine the same year, Ludwig Saxe asked if a man could wish for greater recognition than Lie had achieved and expressed the hope that Lie one day would have the place he deserved in the National Gallery of Norway. (51)

People’s taste in art change and new trends in art become fashionable. The avant-garde art that had been ridiculed at the Armory Show in 1913 gradually won acceptance. Like Royal Cortissoz, the renowned Herald Tribune art critic, Lie was a champion of beauty in art, and he did not take part in the avant-garde movement which may be one reason why his work fell out of favour for a period. There is, however, no question of Lie’s status as an artist; his place in the American art world is secure.  

Since Lie died his work has been exhibited regularly in America and presented in some 25 books or catalogs including by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  To mention the most recent and prestigious example, the National Academy of Design borrowed Afterglow from the Art Institute of Chicago for their exhibition "Rave Reviews: American Art and Its Critics, 1826-1925" in 2000.   He is still represented in about 65 museums and art galleries in the USA. (52)  His paintings are sold at auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York and by many other auction houses throughout the USA.  AskArt lists 106 auction results for Lie’s paintings between 1987 and June 2004.  According to Dr. Roger Dunbier, who developed a relational database, which formed the basis for, the work of Jonas Lie has not only stood the test of time, it is highly collectible, but underpriced. (53)  In Carter B. Horseley’s opinion when reviewing sales at Sotheby’s in 1997, Lie is a very strong and undervalued artist. His case raises interesting questions about the status of an emigrant in his country of origin.

It is still a pertinent to ask why he was not recognized in Norway. Today very few Norwegians have heard of the painter Jonas Lie, which is most undeserved.  One can but repeat Saxe’s hope that Lie one day will have his rightful place in the country where he was born.

(1) This article was printed in Norwegian-American Essays 2004, published by the Norwegian chapter of the Norwegian-American Historical Association, Vol. XI, 285-311.
(2) This is a revised and expanded version of Dina Tolfsby, “Maleren Jonas Lie – anerkjent i USA, men ukjent i Norge” in Kunst og kultur, 86, 3 (Oslo, Norway: Nasjonalgalleriet, 2003) 144-157.  Several questions warrant further research, for instance Lie’s relationship with other Norwegian-American artists and influential American families including Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Such research cannot be done without visiting the Archvies of American Art at the Smithsonian and other archives in the USA as the material on microfilm is not lent.

(3) A.K. “Art and Sciences,” in Harry Sundby-Hanson, ed., Norwegian Immigrant Contributions to America’s Making ( New York, NY: International Press, 1921) 141-152. See also Marion J. Nelson, curator, Norway in America: four exhibitions invited from Vesterheim for showing in Hamar, Lillehammer and Gjøvik, (Decorah, Iowa: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 1989), 70. Nelson, professor of art history, University of Minnesota, was then Director of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Marion Nelson “Art among the Norwegians of New York,” in Norwegians in New York 1825 to 2000: Builders of City, Community and Culture (New York, NY, The Norwegian ImmigrationAssociation Inc.) 71.  

(4) See ”Jonas Lie of Norway and America: A Painter Who Has Found the Secret of  Suggesting on Canvas Nature’s Manifold Moods,” (no author) in  The Craftsman, 13, 2 (Eastwood, Syracuse, NY, 1907) 135-139; Christian Brinton, “Jonas Lie: A Study in Temperament,” in The American Scandinavian Review, 11, 4. (New York: The American Scandinavian Foundation, July-Aug. 1915) 197-207); Christian Brinton, “Jonas Lie–An Interpretation,” in Paintings by Jonas Lie: Ainslie Galleries, 677 Fifth Ave., April 2 to 14, 1923; Rose  V.S. Berry, “Jonas Lie: The Man and His Art,” in The American Magazine of Art, XVI, 4 (Washington: The American Federation of Arts, Feb. 1925) 59-66; F. Newlin  Price, “Jonas Lie, Painter of Light,” in International Studio, 82,341-342-33 (New York, Oct., Nov., Dec. 1925) 102-107.

(5)  “Skikkelser og Skjæbner: Jonas Lie,” Decorah Posten, March 18, 1927; “Lies Udstilling: Den norskfødte kunstner Jonas Lie har nu 32 Billeder udstillet i Minneapolis kunstinstitut,” Minneapolis Søndag Tidende, 7 April 1918: Nordisk Tidende: Brynjulf Strandenæs, “Jonas Lies Utstilling,” April 23, 1925, P.W., ”Malerkunsten i Norge og Amerika: Den norsk-amerikanske Kunstner Jonas Lie gir Nordisk Tidende en Række interessante Oplysninger,” January, 21, 1926, N.H.R., ”Undervurderes amerikansk Kunst i Norge? Maleren Jonas Lie er Femti Aar og holder et lite Opgjør med norsk Kunstkritikk og norsk Værdsættelse av amerikanske Aandsværdier,” May 15, 1930, ”Jonas Lie kreert til Æres-Doktor,” July 1936, ”Jonas Lie trer av som President av Akademiet,” October 10, 1939, ”Jonas Lie er død. Kronprins Olav ærer hans Minne,” January 18, 1940.

(6)  Marion J. Nelson, ” Norwegian-American painting in the Context of the Immigrant Community and American Art,” in Nordics in America: The Future of Their Past (Northfield, Minn.: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1993), 157-186.

(7) Peter Hastings Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art, (Compiled from the original thirty-four volumes of American Art Annual: Who’s Who in Art: Biographies of American Artists Active from 1898-1947), (Madison, Conn., 1985), is the most reliable biographical source as the information was sent in by the artists themselves. Jonas Lie is mentioned in numerous American biographical encylopedias and dictionaries of art, many of which are listed  on Ask Art’s website  The Norwegian-American Collection, National Library of Norway, has a small collection of materials (letters, photos, notes, catalogs, newspaper clippings etc.) See also Dina Tolfsby,  “Jonas Lie,” in Norsk biografisk leksikon, 6 (Oslo, Kunnskapsforlaget, 2003) 62-63.

(8)  ”Notes on Jonas Lie,” unpublished, (no author, no date) 8. Written after 1936 because Lie’s 1936 annual dinner speech of the National Academy of Design is referred to. Lie Papers, Norwegian-American Collection, National Library of Norway.

(9)  Richard Beer, ”As They Are: ’Time for Living,’” in The Art News (New York, April 28, 1934) 11 (Interview with Jonas Lie) and “Notes on Jonas Lie,” 11.

(10)  Dewing Woodward in The Art Digest, (New York, May 15, 1940) 13

(11) In a letter of November 14, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt says, “Do come down soon, because I want to tell you in person how perfectly thrilled I am by “Amber Light.”  Lie Papers, Norwegian-American Collection. At present the painting is for sale through Spanierman Galleries, LC, 45 East 58th Street, New York. The price quote is $300,000.

(12)  Invitation from the Inaugural Committee addressed to Miss Sonja Lie. Lie Papers, Norwegian-American Collection.

(13)  Brinton, ”Jonas Lie: A Study in Temperament,” 200

(14)  “Painter Off Today for Lonely North: Lie to Sail for the Lofoten Islands on Rocky Norwegian Coast,” in New York Times, Sunday April 25, 1926.

(15)  Beer, “As They Are,” 11. This anecdote is mentioned in several articles about Lie. In many articles both the year and the title are wrong for Lie’s first exhibition at the National Academy of Design.. According to the records of the National Academy of Design, the correct title is A Gray Day and the correct year is 1901, Jan.5–Feb. 2, when Lie was still twenty years old.

(16)  ”Jonas Lie–John Sloan–Henry Ernest Schnakenberg,” The Index of Twentieth Century Artists 1933-1937 (New York: The Research Institute of the College Art Association) 226-228 and three supplements list Lie’s exhibition history from 1901 through 1936. The section “Reproductions” (p. 229-231 plus the supplements) show that 114 of Lie’s paintings were reproduced in catalogues and magazines during this period, many of the paintings several times.

(17)  Jonas Lie, letter to General Harbord, January 12, 1929. Lie Papers, Norwegian-American Collection.

(18)  ”What the Critics say about Jonas Lie’s Paintings of The Panama Canal,” a printed brochure containing 13 of the reviews that appeared in New York, Boston and Philadelphia by prestigious art critics such as Royal Cortissoz, Charles H. Caffin, W.H. de B. Nelson and Wm. B. M’Cormick. Lie Papers, Norwegian-American Collection.

(19)  Price, “Painter of Life,” 107; ”A Few November Exhibitions,” (no author) in Art World, 3 (New York, Dec. 1917) 233-234. So far it has been impossible to trace these paintings as there are no files at the Kennecott Copper Corporation which can provide information.

(20)  Charles H. Caffin, ”Pennsylvania Academy Exhibition,” in The International Studio (New York, Supp.  III, 1905) III

(21)  The Craftsman, 138-139.

(22)  Charles M. Kurtz, ed., ”Third Annual Exhibition: Selected American Paintings at The Albright Art Gallery,” in Academy Notes, IV, 2 (Buffalo, NY, 1908) 19-20, 21Anon, ”The Presentation of Jonas Lie’s Development in Painting as Presented at the Folsom Galleries,” in The Craftsman, 21 (Eastwood, NY, January 1912) 455

(23 Anon, ”The Presentation of Jonas Lie’s Development in Painting as Presented at the Folsom Galleries,” in The Craftsman, 21 (Eastwood, NY, January 1912) 455

(24)  Brinton, “Jonas Lie: A Study in Temperament,”200 and 205

(25)  Berry,”The Man and His Art,” 64 and 66

(26)  Price, “Painter of Light,” 107 and ”Notes on Jonas Lie,” 26

(27)  Claire Wallace Flynn, “Jonas Lie,” in Park Avenue Social Review, New York, July 1930: 21,47

(28)  Frontispiece: ”Rockbound Coast,” by Jonas Lie in The Bulletin of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, XLII, Ed. Julius Bloom, March 1, 13, 1938: 236; “Prize Paintings From N.Y. Fair Arriving Here,” Schenectary, N.Y Gazette, Dec. 23, 1939 includes information that Lie won third prize for Rockbound Coast.

(29)  “Jonas Lie–Painter,” in The Index of Twentieth Century Artists, 225

(30)  The Armory Show: International Exhibition of Modern Art, 1913 (3 vols.) (New York, 1913) vol. I, catalogue, 59. The Black Teapot was purchased by the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (now Everson Museum of Art) in 1913. Lie’s involvement in the Armory Show is mentioned in an article at and in Walt Kuhn, The Story of the Armory Show (New York, 1938) 23

 (31) E. May Tennant, “Jonas Lie. Citizen Artist: An Effort to Make Art Appreciation a Part of Community Spirit,” in Arts and Decoration (New York, August, 1921) 221

(32)  “Plainfield Buys by Subscription a $5,000 Work by Jonas Lie,” in American Art News (New York, February 10, 1923).

(33)  ”An Admirable Choice,” in The Sun, New York, April 28, 1934: 1

(34)  ”Art: Jonas Lie Institutes a One-Man Academy Revolution,” in News-Week, Oct. 20, 1934: 28

(35)  An interview with Lie in the New York Times, May, 1934, quoted in “Academy Plans,” in Art Digest May 15, 1934: 6

(36)  ”Lie v. Sloan,” in Time, New York, April 18, 1932: 35

(37)  “An open Letter to Jonas Lie, President of the National Academy of Design,” in Art Front, I, New York, Nov. 1934: 1.  See also NY Times Oct. 5. and 10, 1934.

(38)  Providence, R.I. News Tribune, Oct. 5, 1934.

(39)   The controversy is quoted in Peyton Boswell, Jr., Modern American Painting (New York, Dodd, Mead & Company: 1940) 140 and 139. See also  “Nobody Loves Him,” in Art Front, I, May 1935 ,5: 1

(40)  Eliot Clark,  History of the National Academy of Design, 218

(41)  Eliot Clark, History of the National Academy of Design, 219

(42)  Royal Cortissoz, New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 17 1940.

(43)  Further research is needed with regard to Lie’s association with influential  families such as that of John A. Gade, Marcia and Mabel Brady who married Carll Tucker and Francis P. Garvan respectively, and several other names that appear among sponsors of exhibitions and donors of paintings. It has proved impossible to gain access to such archival material without visiting archives in America.

(44)  “Jonas Lie,” in The American Scandiavian Review, Spring 1940: 68-69.

(45)  “Maleren Jonas Lie død,” in Tidens Tegn, Jan., 13, 1940.

(46) American Scandinavian Review, vol. XVIII, 5 and 7 (New York, American Scandinavian Foundation: May 1930) 306; (July 1930) 441.  According to Information from Worcester Art Museum, Jonas Lie was on the organizing committee and was represented at the exhibition with The Old Ships Draw to Home Again, lent by the Brooklyn Museum of Art. A letter to Director Thiis at the National Gallery from the American Scandinavian Foundation of September 14, 1914, is in the archives of the National Gallery, but no reply. It is written in pencil on the letter that it would be better to show this exhibition in “det nye kunstnerhus” (a new art museum).  

(47)  “Undervurderes amerikansk Kunst i Norge?” in Nordisk Tidende New York, May 16, 1930.

(48)  “Malerkunsten i Norge og Amerika,” in Nordisk Tidende New York, Jan. 21, 1926
(49) Jonas Lie, “American Art,” in Think (New York: published by IBM, ca. 1934) and Watson Forbes (essay), American Painting Today (Washington, D.C.: The American Federation of  Arts, 1939, 13 (The Cloud by Lie, 139)

(50) ”Samtale med Jonas Lie og hans datter,” in Morgenbladet (interview) July 24, 1934

(51) Ludvig Saxe, ”Lysets maler,” in Nordmanns-Forbundet, (Oslo, Norway: Nordmanns-Forbundet, Sept, 1934) 294-296

(52) Seventy owner institutions have been contacted for verification as the information about Lie’s paintings has not always been updated since his death. Most of the institutions have confirmed that they still have their painting(s) by Jonas Lie, although some of the paintings are no longer in the permanent collection. His paintings are still regularly exhibited.  See The Index of Twentieth Century Artists, which contains information about where Lie was represented in 1937. On Ask Art ( there is a list of 29 museums. SIRIS lists 118 institutions including auction dealers. Lie left a typed list dated 1937.

( 53) Roger Dunbier. ”Dunbier on Fine Art Valuation,”  See also “The AskART Story,

National Academy of Design Associate 1912  
National Academician 1925
President of the National Academy of Design 1934-1939
Member and among the founders of the Society of Painters, Sculptors & Gravers (New Society of Artists) in 1919
Host of the Norwegian ski team at the 1932 Olympics in the USA
Member (elected) of Municipal Art Commission of the City of New York (1932)
Ex-officio-member of Board of Trustees ved Metropolitan Museum of Art (1934-39)
Board member Directors of American Federation of Arts (1935)
Member of the National Institute of Arts & Letters, 1929, Vice President, 1936
Member (elected) of the American National  Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, 1936
Member (elected) of the Advisory Committee on Municipal Art Committee, 1936.
American Academy of Arts and Letters, elected in 1937
Life Member, National Arts Club
Member of American Federation of Arts
Member Art Students League
Member of Century Club
Member of Lotos Club
Member of Salmagundi Club
Member of Society of Medalists (NY Herald Tribune 11/1 1940)
Artist Member Grand Central Art Galleries, NY
Honorary Member of Boston Art Club
Honorary Member of Three Arts Club
Honorary Member, Studio Club

Jonas Lie was among the jurors at the National Academy of Design 15 times between 1914 and 1938.
Part of the American Committee of Selection for the 27th   Carnegie Institute International Exhibition October 18–December 9 1928 (with four other well known American painters and again for the 30th in 1931  
Member of the jury of selection and awards for a large exhibition of contemporary American oil paintings at the Corcoran Art Galleries in Washington D.C. in March 1935.

1904: Silver Medal. St. Louis Exposition – Mill Race
Owner: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
1914: First Hallgarten Prize, National Academy of Design, New York, 89th Annual – Afterglow.  Owner: Chicago Art Institute
1915: Silver Medal. Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, CA – Gates of Pedro Miguel
Owner: US Military Academy, West Point
1916: Richard Greenough Memorial Prize, Newport Art Association, Summer Exhibition, Newport, Rhode Island – Morning
1920: Bendickson Prize, Chicago Norske Klub  
1925: Gold Medal of Honor, Philadelphia Art Week, PA
1925: Oscar H. Haugan Prize, Chicago Norske  Klub (First Prize)
1927: Michelson & Rongstad Prize, Chicago Norske Klub (First Prize for Siesta)
1927: The Carnegie Prize, National Academy of Design, NY, 102nd Annual – The Cloud
Bought by Salon des artistes Americains in Paris
1927: First Prize, High School Art Assocation, Springville, Utah
1928: Olympic Award, Amsterdam – Fisherman’s Race
1929: Maida Gregg Memorial Prize, National Arts Club, New York City – Herring Cove at Dawn. Chosen and given by Norwegian Americans at the Atlantic Coast for the wedding of Crown Prince Olav and Princess Märtha in 1929. Owner: Royal Palace of Norway
1932: Knight of Order of St. Olav
1935: Jennie Sesnan Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts – Snow
Owner: Saint Louis Art Museum
1936: Saltus Medal for Merit, National Academy of Design, New York, 111th Annual – The Curtain Rises. Owner: Olav Anton Thommessen (grandson of Jonas Lie), Oslo
1936: American Roll of Honor, National Institute of Immigrant Welfare
1936: Doctor of Fine Arts, Lawrence College, Wisconsin
1937: Adolph and Clara Obrig Prize, National Academy of Design, New York – Rockbound Coast. Private owner
1938: Marine Prize, National Arts Club
1938: Saltus Medal for Merit, National Academy of Design, New York – Old Smuggler’s Cove (Owner unlocated)
1938: Doctor of Fine Arts, Syracuse University, NY
1939: Honorary Award from International Business Machines Corporation for a notable contribution to the art of the world
1939: Third Prize Contemporary Art of 79 Countries, New York World’s Fair – Rockbound Coast 


Amherst, MA, Amherst College, The Arrival (1)
Andover, MA, Addison Gallery of American Art, Philips Academy, Toilers of the Sea (2)
Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Museum of Art, On the Job for Victory (WWI poster) (3)
Atlanta, GA, Haverty Collection, High Museum of Art, Path of Gold
Atlanta, GA, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Gloucester Harbor
Baltimore, ME, The Peabody Art Collection, The Silent River
Beloit, WI, Wright Museum of Art, Beloit College, Frosty Morning, Arcadia, Fishing Harbor
Blue Mountain Lake, NY, The Adirondack Museum, Main Camp, Home Pond, Men’s Camp and Stable, Whiteface Mountain and Place Lake
Boston, MA, Museum of Fine Arts, The Fisherman’s Return, Vesper,
When the Boats Come In

Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY, The Old Ships Draw to Home Again
Canajoharie, NY, Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery, Market Square, Douarnanez
Cedar Rapids, IA, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Sails
Charlottesville, VA, University of Virginia Art Museum, Autumn Extravaganza
Chester, PA, Widener University Art Gallery, Fishermen’s Cottages
Chicago, IL, The Art Institute of Chicago, Afterglow
Cincinatti, OH, University of Cincinatti, Fine Arts Collection, Winter Landscape with Brook
Cleveland, OH, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ingalls Library, Out to Sea
Dallas, TX, Dallas Museum of Art, The Bridge
Decorah, IA, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Svolvær Fishing Harbor, Eastward, The White Birches (4)
Detroit, MI, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Culebra Cut (Panama Canal Series)
Elmira, NY, Arnot Art Museum, Bathing Pool/Children Bathing
Hagerstown, MD, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, The Western Slope,

Huntington, West Virginia, Huntington Museum of Art, Switzer and Daywood Galleries, Blue Heron Lake
Iowa City, IA, University of Iowa Museum of Art, Eagle Lake
Lawrence, Kansas Thayer Museum of Art. University of Kansas, After the Concert
Lafayette, IN, The Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, The Golden Age
Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, A Mill Race (5)
Milwaukee, WI, Milwaukee Art Museum, Samuel O. Buckner Collection,
Rainy Day at Quebeck, Boats
Minneapolis, MN, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Old Logging Road (6)
Minneapolis, MN, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Clearing in the Woods
Montclair, NJ, Montclair Art Museum, The Headlands
Muskegon, MI, Muskegon Museum of Art, Quai (7)
Muncie, IN, Ball State University Museum of Art, Frank C: Ball Collection, Somes Sound
Nashville, TN, The Parthenon Centennial Park, The Cove
Newark, Delaware, University of Delaware, Fishing Boats and Fishermen
Newark, NJ, The Newark Museum, Mountainous Landscape, Harbor Scene
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The George A. Hearn Fund,
The Conquerors (Panama Canal Series)
New York, Museum of the City of New York, On the Job for Victory (WW1 poster)
New York, National Academy of Design, Blue and Silver (8)
New York, NY, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Buvette de Bon Coin
Oslo, Norway, The Royal Palace, Herring Cove at Dawn/Fiskebukt ved daggry
Paris, France, Musée d'Arte Moderne (9)
Paris, France, Musée Luxembourg, The Ice Harvest
Peru, Indiana, Peru Senior High School, Harbor Scene (Gloucester) (10)
Philiadelphia, PA, CIGNA Museum and Art Collection, The Inner Harbor
Phoenix, AZ, Phoenix Art Museum, Marley Western Art Gallery, Bingham Mine
Plainfield, New Jersey, All Souls Unitarian Church, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills” inspired by the Psalms, Mural in memory of Inga Sontum
Plainfield, New Jersey, City Hall library, The Birches
Plainfield, NJ, Plainfield Public Library, Standing Alone
Raleigh, NC, North Carolina Museum of Art, Woolworth Building at Night
Rochester, NY, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Morning on the River, Evening
San Diego, CA, San Diego Museum of Art, The Red Mill
San Francisco, CA, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, On the Job for Victory, (WWI Poster)
Saranac Lake, NY, Saranac Free Library, Mt. Baker, An Autumn Scene Near Saranac Lake
Savannah, GA, Telfair Museum of Art, In the Harbor
Seattle, WA, Seattle Art Museum, Heart of the Woods, Winter, Rockbound Coast
Springville, UT, Springville Museum of Art, High School Art Gallery, Mill Race II
St. Louis, MO, St. Louis Art Museum, Snow
Syracuse, NY, Everson Museum of Art, The Black Teapot
Washington, DC, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Storm
Washington, D.C., Navy Art Collection, On the Job for Victory (WWI Poster)
Washington, D.C, Norwegian Embassy A Winter Harbor in USA/Midwinter
West Point, NY, United States Military Academy, Central Wall-Pedro Miguel, Crane at Miraflores (Ancon Hill), Lock Chamber–Pedro Miguel, Cucaracha Slide–Culebra Gatun Lake, Toil, Activity–Culebra, Canal Bottom at Culebra, Heavenly Host, Across the Canal at Culebra, Dawn at Culebra, Gates of Pedro Miguel
Winter Park, FL, Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Harbor Scene
Winter Park, FL, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Dusk at Lower Broadway

Baltimore, ME, The Peabody Art Collection, Midwinter

Newport, RI, Newport Art Museum, The Bridge, 1945

Seattle, WA, Seattle Art Museum, After the Snowfall, Old Covered Bridge, Sycamores in Storm (all in 1950)

Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN. Sapphire and Amethyst, gift from Mrs. Carll Tucker in 1933 (Bulletin of the Mpls Institute of Arts, 22, May 6, 193:7) Sold Plaza Galleries, New York, circa 1950s.  In catalog entitled "Spirit of the Sea III: Featuring 200 images of Marine Art and Artifacts, Valejo Gallery, Newport Bach, CA".

New York, NY, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Blue Herron Lake, 1935, Menemsha Bight (when?) Sold at an auction at Christie’s, New York, September 29, 1990, lot 239

New York City, National Arts Club, Harbor (11)

White Plains, NY, IBM Corporation, Rockbound Coast, year unknown, but the painting was sold at an auction at Bonhams/Butterfields, San Francisco, June 11, 2003.  This is a different version from the Rockbound Coast owned by Seattle Art Museum.

Seattle, WA, Washington Art Gallery, University of Washington, Asters and Nasturtiums (12)

Dallas, TX, Art Association of Dallas, Boats at Sunrise

New York, NY, Engineers Club, Peonies
New York City, Lotos Club


(1) Sources: The Index of Twentieth Century Artists 1933-37 + supplements, Ask Art. (Internet), SIRIS, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (Internet). Institutions listed as owners of paintings by Jonas Lie according to the above information as well as several other institutions have been contacted for verification. Some paintings have been deaccessioned, but most institutions still own their paintings. Art associations in 1937 have often become museums today.

(2) The painting Toilers of the Sea was stolen in 1976.

(3) Lie made this poster for the Emergency Shipping Board in 1918.

(4) Svolvær Fishing Harbor was purchased by Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum when the Chicago Norke Klub closed; White Birches was donated to Vesterheim in 1991, the painting had hung for many years in the Norwegian Seamen's Church in Brooklyn.  Source: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Musem, Decorah, IA.

(5) The painting A Mill Race was bought by the Merchants Club, St. Louis in 1904. It was acquired by Los Angeles County Museum of Art through a donation in December 2003.

(6) Old Logging Road was acquired by the Albright Museum of Art, Buffalo, NY, in 1924. The painting was deaccessioned in 1943, sold at at Parke-Bernett Galleries, New York October 10, 1943 to Minneapolis Institute of Arts

(7) Quai Have not been able to verify.

(8) Blue and Silver was Lie's National Academician diploma presentation, March 16, 1926.

(9) Have not been able to verify.

(10) Have not been able to verify.

(11) According to the National Arts Club, some paintings were sold in 1940 and Lie’s painting was most likely sold then. There are no records.

(12) The painting has not been located at the University of Washington

© Dina Tolfsby, National Library of Norway, 2005

Biography from Abby M Taylor Fine Art:
Jonas Lie was a prolific painter, known for his coastal views of New England and New York scenes.  He became the president of the National Academy of Design from 1935 to 1939, a year before his death.  Lie was also known for a series of paintings of the last days of construction of the Panama Canal in 1913.  These paintings were given to the United States Military Academy at West Point, in memory of General Goethals. His most award winning work from this series, The Conquerors, Panama Canal, now hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lie was born in Moss, Norway to an accomplished Norwegian engineer and an American mother.  Named after his uncle, a novelist and close friend of Henrik Ibsen, Jonas went to Paris to live with his uncle in 1892, after his father's death. Surely it was here, the twelve year-old boy was influenced by the creative spirit found in his uncle's home.

In 1893, Jonas moved to New York City, where he took evening classes at Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League while working designing fabric patterns for a textile company to raise money to support his education.  After the completion of his education, Lie spent most of his summers along the New England coast and Canada. Here he would paint bright, impressionistic harbor scenes and rocky, coastal views, which he would exhibit regularly.

The landscapes and coastal paintings Lie created in New England can be characterized by a facile, broad handling of pigment and an impressionistic sense of light and air.  Lie once stated:

"Color is the chief medium through which we attain pictorial expression; but color must be interpretative, not imitative. In order to produce lasting work, the actual, visual impression we derive from nature should be less forceful, less vivid, than the accompanying mental impression. I do not want to attempt voluntarily to symbolize nature, but in portraying nature to impart a sense of what is within and what is beyond."

Associate Member, National Academy of Design, 1912
National Academician, 1925 (president 1934-39)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1934
National Arts Club
Century Club
American Federation of Arts
Boston Art Club
Three Art Club
Studio Club
Lotus Club
Salmagundi Club
Municipal Arts Commission
Municipal Art Society of New York
National Institute of Arts and Letters
Art Commission Association

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Annual, 1903-40 (medal for best landscape 1935)
St. Louis Exposition, 1904 (medal)
Corcoran Gallery Biennials, 1907-39
Art Institute of Chicago
Armory Show, 1913
National Academy of Design, 1914(prize), 1927 (prize), 1936 (medal), 1937 (prize)
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, CA, 1915 (medal)
Newport, RI, 1925 (gold)
Society of Independent Artists, 1917, 1919, 1937
Art Week, Philadelphia, 1925 (gold)
Chicago Norske Klub, 1925 (prize), 1927 (prize)
Springville, Utah, 1927 (prize)
National Arts Club, 1929 (prize)
Amsterdam, 1928 (prize)
Whitney Museum of American Art, 1932

Cornell Fine Arts Museum, FL
Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
San Diego Museum of Art, CA
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
High Museum of Art, GA
The Art Institute of Chicago
Addison Gallery of American Art, MA
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Washington County Museum of Fine Art, MD
The University of Michigan Museum of Art
Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
The Newark Museum, NJ
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY
Arnot Art Museum, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Everson Museum of Art, NY
The Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Seattle Art Museum, WA
Wright Museum of Art, WI
Telfair Museum of Art, GA

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):
A painter best known for views of New York City and the New England coast, Jonas Lie worked in a vigorous, colorful style reflecting the influence of French Impressionism and the realism of the Ashcan School. He was born in Moss, Norway, the son of a Norwegian engineer and his American wife. The artist’s family included several prominent figures from the literary and artistic world. Two of his aunts were famous pianists and composers, and he was named for an uncle who was a distinguished writer.

Lie’s first interest was in music. He attended family concerts beginning at age three. When his father died in 1892, Lie’s life changed abruptly. He was sent to live for three months with Christian Skredvig, a painter who resided near Oslo. From this first exposure to the visual arts, he decided to become a painter. At the conclusion of the three months, he was sent to live with his famous uncle and namesake in Paris. Residing with his uncle at 11 Avenue de la Grande Armée in Paris, Lie found himself at the center of a community of expatriated Scandinavian literary figures. Among those who visited his uncle’s home were the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and the Norwegian playwright Hendrik Ibsen. After learning of his interest in drawing, Lie’s uncle enrolled him in a small private art school and took him on visits to the Louvre.

Lie’s life changed again in 1893, when he was reunited with his mother and sisters in New York. In Manhattan, he studied at the Ethical Culture School, where he concentrated on art. In 1896, he went with Dewing Woodward, one of his teachers, to Providence, Rhode Island, where he painted outdoors for the first time.

After graduating from school, Lie was faced with the responsibility of supporting his mother and sisters and took a job as a designer of textile patterns at Manchester Mills in New York. During the evenings he attended classes at the National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, and the Art Students League. He spent his Sundays painting in a studio he rented in Manhattan and sketching at Rockaway Beach. His role model during his early New York years was Fritz Thaulow, a fellow Norwegian painter who worked in an Impressionist style.

After leaving his job in 1906 in order to concentrate on art, Lie became influenced by the works of the Eight, the group of American artists who were focusing on urban subjects, which they painted in a realist fashion with dark tonalities and vigorous brushwork. Lie embraced the ideology of the Eight and adopted their bold techniques.

In 1909, Lie returned to Paris, spending three months painting along the river Seine. He then traveled to Norway for a stay that lasted eighteen months. Upon returning to America in 1910, Lie expanded his subject matter to include views of mountainous countrysides and shores. He began to paint along the New England coast and in the Adirondacks, subjects he focused on throughout the rest of his career.

In 1913, Lie traveled to Panama, where he observed and recorded the construction of the Panama Canal. In a series of paintings, he depicted the tremendous steel works and documented the way that huge masses of earth were being moved to create the waterway. Lie’s Panama Canal series brought him a significant amount of renown. His paintings of the subject were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute, and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In the years after his return from Panama, Lie was a popular and outspoken figure in the New York art scene. In 1919, he led a protest against the jury system of the National Academy of Design that ended in a revolt by a group of prominent artists. This group, which included Lie, Paul Manship, George Bellows, and Joseph Pennell, established the American Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers Society. Despite his participation in a separatist group, Lie did not resign from the National Academy. Remaining a member of the Academy, he helped to initiate changes in the organization’s policies, and in 1934, he was elected president of the Academy, a post he held until 1939.

Works by Lie may be found in many important public and private collections including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum; the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. ; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Jonas Lie is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900

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