Skip to content

la biographie

American, 20th century. 
Born 1908, Chicago, Illinois; died 1993, Chicago.

Lee Godie, a much beloved figure to the art world of Chicago in the 1970s and 80s, basically lived on the streets, sleeping on benches and painting on the grass in the parks. In 1968, she had appeared on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, presenting herself as a French Impressionist–“Lee Godie Artist”– seeking to sell her paintings which she carried rolled up under her heavy coats to the visitors and staff of the Institute and to the students and faculty of the School of the Art Institute. Aligning herself with the French Impressionists for their dedication to beauty (as opposed to their painting style) which Godie asserted she shared, she proclaimed herself “better than Cezanne.” To the many artists, writers, and collectors who sought her out and purchased her work, the paintings spoke not of past art history but rather of a singular vision of an intuitive masterful self-taught artist.

Her works were mainly full frontal portraits or profiles of simply-drawn, idealized figures, many drawn from popular culture of her youth–repeatedly drawn figures such as Clara Bow or Joan Crawford, and the Gibson Girl or dashing men of fantasy, such as the Hessian soldier, the waiter, or (modeled on a Picasso portrait) the ballet star. Godie also painted images of birds, branches, and still-lifes and created a striking series of her traced hands

repeated over and over in horizontal compositions, many hovering over extended keyboards. Most of her hundreds of works were rendered in oil, tempera, or water color, as well as ball point pen and pencil on canvas (usually old window shades). But she also made use of self-service photomats to produce a large series of self-portraits in which she adopted dramatic and stylized poses, often manipulating the photos with ballpoint pen or felt marker.

Before she wound up on the streets, she had apparently led a strong willed life as a young woman, married in the 1930s, bearing three children–two of whom died–and gotten divorced in the 1940s. By the early 1960s she was homeless, but it was at this time that she also began to paint. Soon adopted in spirit by the Chicago art world, she was reunited with her sole surviving daughter in 1988 who had sought her out and cared for her in her declining years.

- Charles Russell


Selected Exhibitions
2019, Chicago Foyer D’art Brut, Halle Saint Pierre, Paris
2018, Chicago We Own It, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago
2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
2013, The Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, London
2008, Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago
2004, Lee Godie: French Impressionist from a Bag, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

Selected Collections
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Selected Bibliography
Lee Godie: Finding Beauty, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, 2008.
Lee Godie: French Impressionist from a Bag, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, 2004.
Bonesteel, Michael, “Lee Godie,” Raw Vision, 27, Summer, 1999: 40-45.
Artist–Lee Godie: A Twenty Year Retrospective, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, 1993.

Haut de Page