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 Lee Lash  (1864 - )

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Lived/Active: New York/California/British Columbia      Known for: landscape, stage-curtain designer

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Ad Code: 3
Lee Lash
from Auction House Records.
Wall Street
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter, Lee Lash was born in Vancouver, BC in 1864 and from 1865, was brought up in San Francisco where he attended public schools. In his teens, he studied art with Juan B Wandesforde and Domenico Tojetti and then traveled to Paris where he studied with Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre.

At the Paris Salons his work was acclaimed, and after eight years in Paris, he established a studio in San Francisco and taught at the School of Design from 1891 to 1893. By 1935, he had moved to New York, and after that no record has been found of him.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
The following., submitted February 2005, is from Katherine Wynne, great niece of the artist.

Lee Lash attended the Bates Academy in San Francisco, and left for Paris at an early age. His very large painting "The Old Sailors' Home" achieved great acclaim at the Paris Salon, and the painting was later destroyed in a warehouse fire. Most important, returning from France, he and he brother Samuel Lash established the Lee Lash Theater Curtain Company in New York. Their principal product was act curtains for Vaudeville: those signature curtains with an oval painting in the middle and advertising filling the borders. The curtain in the Apollo Theater on 125th Street
in New York had a painting of my grandmother, Vera, and her two sisters, Mabel and Ethel, playing in Central Park. Like many of his works, this began with a photo Lee took.

Vera Lash was born in 1887 and wasn't more than seven or eight when Lee took the picture. Nor was this early in Lee's New York career. So he could not have been in San Francisco anywhere near as late as 1935. On the contrary, Sam Lash moved to Los Angeles with his wife Anna and was there in the early '40's and died there.

Family history has it that Lee Lash returned from Paris and settled in New York at once,and his parents then moved from San Francisco to New York to supply the capital for his theater curtain business. The Lee Lash Theater Curtain Company also did scenery for Broadway shows. There are several large portfolios of the company's work at the Library for the Performing Arts in NYC.

With the stock-market crash of '29 and the decline of Vaudeville, business for
the company slackened and Lee retired, turning to painting views of New York (mostly in the blue of dawn), landscapes of Woodstock, NY where he had a summer cottage, and of the Southwest. A New York gallery gave him a one-man show in the '30's or '40's. His studio was crammed with works at the time of his death. His wife, Czara, willed them to a friend of hers, a Mrs. Adams who lived in Canada.

During his time in Los Angeles, Lee Lash sold many of his New York paintings to film studios for their offices.
Addendum to the biography from Katherine Wynne:

Lee Lash was from a Viennese Jewish family, and his father Henry Lash had emigrated with his parents to America in 1847 when he was six. In the "old country", the name was spelled Lausch, and there the family had wealth from lace and sugar-beet industries. They also had strong connections to the Emeror in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire because an uncle, Dr. Basch, was adviser to the Emperor Maximillian in Mexico.

It appears Lee's (and my) branch of the family left Europe for California to negotiate with the Californios an alliance with the Viennese Hapsburgs -- the Californios had just achieved liberation from Mexican rule, and every major power was eager to have control of that great coast that opened toward the China trade and had everything a ship needed to restock for the Pacific crossing. The revolutions of
1848 against the old royal houses of Europe undoubtedly hampered the Lashes' negotiations. Then came the Gold Rush in '49 with a flood of unruly Americans into California, and the American military right behind them to "restore order" and relieve the Californios of the burden of self-rule.

On the personal side: crossing the Atlantic, the Lashes befriended a couple named Mitchell. Arriving in New York, the two couples attended a fancy-dress New Year's Eve ball, with six-year-old Henry carrying the Mitchell's baby, Henrietta, in a basket as part of his costume. The Mitchells and Lashes sailed around the Horn together to San Francisco, and remained close friends when the Lashes stayed on and flourished in the importing business. In due course Henry married Henrietta. Henry sold imported goods all over the West, and wherever he went Henrietta went with him, giving birth wherever she happened to be.

Their children, however, remained in San Francisco, in a house so well-stocked with Chinese servants that there was, purportedly, even a boy whose sole job was to attend to the billiard room. The young children were looked after by a Scottish nanny, who is known to us only by the children's name for her "Alice, King of Smelly Feet." Reaching the age for school, the girls were sent to a Catholic convent school
and the boys to the Bates Academy. Lee learned boxing and was apparently good at it. When he was fifteen he made a sly remark to a chum regarding Master Bates; the headmaster overheard him and boxed his ears hard. Lee responded by flooring the headmaster.

There was scandal -- not because the headmaster had struck Lee (impairing his hearing for life) but because Lee had retaliated. It was at this point Lee was hustled out of San Francisco and sent off to Paris -- to study art.

During the years of the Lee Lash Theater Curtain Company, Lee spent his Sundays with his sister Agnes and her family, bringing to their house his theater friends, including George Primrose of the black-face minstrel Vaudeville show, Primrose and West. Brother Sam married a Floradora Girl (the predecessors of the Rockettes whose dainty signature number, with fellows, went "Tell me pretty maiden are there
any more at home like you? There are a few, kind Sir...(That marriage ended in divorce and she was later murdered by a jealous lesbian lover -- while Sam went on to marry Anna, the daughter of a well-to-do distillery owner.)
Lash actually had two "drop curtain advertising enterprises" called Lee Lash Studios by June 6, 1895, one at 25 West 30 th Street, NYC, and the other on Diamond Street, Philadelphia. According to William Chambliss, around January, 1891, Lash had his artist shop in his father's back yard in Post Street, San Francisco, and later moved up to 2309 Bush Street close to the Catholic church. Lash proposed an advertising business using theater drop curtains and approached William Chambliss to help finance it. Lash explained, "I am an artist and I can paint the signs on the curtain; but you must remember that I am in a position which I cannot risk by going into trade. Sign painting is trade you know, and I am an artist." Subsequently Lash began a business with his brother Samuel, and father, Isador, called "Art Advertising Company" in the old Merchants' Exchange building. Apparently he got over the idea that this business was vulgar "trade," because it was said that he even got up on a scaffold to add some finishing touches to a bicycle ad and the scaffolding fell down and almost killed him.

Chambliss, William H., Chambliss' Diary: Or, Society As It Really Is , 1895: NY, Chapter 27. Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900. Also published on the web as ,

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