HUGHIE LEE-SMITH (1915 - 1999) Untitled (Couple on a Rooftop).
Oil on canvas, circa 1952-7. 457x610 mm; 18x24 inches. Signed in oil, lower left.
With another, earlier painting by the artist of a figure in a desolate landscape on the verso, uncovered from a painted layer of ground by conservation.
Provenance: private collection.
This dramatic rooftop painting on the recto is a fascinating example of Hughie Lee-Smith's mid-1950s work in Detroit. This was a critical period in the formation of Lee-Smith's work, and is today the most sought-after period of his paintings. This scene evokes the existential ethos of the era--capturing a moment alone for a couple above the busy city. Lee-Smith earned his B.S. in fine art from Detroit's Wayne State University in 1953. That year, his painting The Piper won top prize at the Detroit Institute of Art and was eventually purchased for the museum collection--Lee-Smith later called it "a validation of my professional status as an artist."
The newly revealed painting on the verso shows an intriguing, earlier 1950s subject--a single figure in a scene of urban decay. Like his earlier WPA period drawings and prints, this painting shows the artist's continued interest in portraying the changing urban environs of Detroit. The artist recalled,"there was a very definite return in my work towards a kind of Social Realism. This was the kind of thing I was doing during the WPA days, making prints such as The Wasteland and Artist's Life No. 1." The verso painting also reinforces the dating of the works to the Detroit period, before the artist won the Emily Lowe Award for painting and moved to New York in 1958. Bearden/Henderson p. 330.