Jun 10, 2014 - Sale 2353

Sale 2353 - Lot 22

Price Realized: $ 37,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 25,000 - $ 35,000
HUGHIE LEE-SMITH (1915 - 1999)

Oil on linen canvas, 1961. 610x457 mm; 24x18 inches. Signed in oil, upper left.

Provenance: the artist, New York; Janet Nassler Gallery, New York; private collection, New York (1962). This painting has remained in the collection of the original owner for over 50 years ago. The artist had solo exhibitons at the Janet Nassler gallery in 1960, 1962 and 1964; the gallery closed in 1965.

Rooftops is a fascinating example of Hughie Lee-Smith's early 1960s work in New York where he continued painting rooftops scenes as he had in Detroit. This was a mature period in Lee-Smith's career after his many, early successes in the 1950s, including winning the Emily Lowe Award for painting in 1957. He moved to New York in 1958 where he lived in the East Village.

In Rooftops, Lee-Smith shows a singular economy and clarity in his vision. With little drama, he evokes the existentialism of the Civil Rights era--the deterioration of America's urban areas during periods of great growth and prosperity. In this painting, Lee-Smith lets the window and pole serves as the central elements under a hazy sky.

Like his earlier WPA period drawings and prints, this painting shows the artist's continued interest in portraying the changing urban environments. Lee-Smith continues to paint scenes that harken back not just to Detroit, but his life in Cleveland during the Depression. Lee-Smith wrote the following description on the verso of a woodcut from 1939, but it could easily describe the scene he painted here:

"I had watched the Central Avenue area rapidly deteriorating, its houses falling down, and too many of its people going to pieces as well. It depressed me beyond words. I could only express my feeling about it all by drawing, not that drawing was altogether realistic. The way I felt about it got blended with the way it actually looked." Marion p. 16 and 22.