Jonas Lie was born in Moss, Norway, in 1880, his father was a civil engineer, one of his aunts was the great pianist Erika Lie Nieesn, and his namesake uncle the famous Norwegian author Jonas Lie. Lie went to live in Paris where he attended a small private art school from 1893 to 1897, he was profoundly influenced by Monet’s use of color and light, which can be seen reflected in some of Lie’s seascapes. Lie studied at Dr. Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture School where he was encourage to draw and paint. After graduating he worked at Manchester Mills in New York as a shirt designer, where his design job combined with his art classes established the foundation of skills Lie would later rely upon as an artist.
Early in his career Lie’s paintings were chosen for various art shows including ones at the national Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Lie returned to Norway in 1906 to reconnect with the Norwegian side of his family. His artistic career began offering art classes in New York. Lie’s canvases began representing more urban settings focusing on the lives of workingmen. Whether painting a rustic landscape or a city street, his work combined a mixture of realism and impressionism. Lie would add his own poetic expression into each piece through his interpretative use of color and light. As Lie said, “art is not an emotional expression; it is a controlled expression of an emotion.”1 The artist was also actively involved in mounting the famous 1913 Armory Show, where four of his own paintings were shown.
One of the pinnacles of Lie’s career came from his Panama Canal series where he went down to Panama showing the epic endeavor of building the canal. The paintings were first exhibited at Knoedler’s in January 1914 and achieved great success with attendance exceeding 2000 people in a single day.
In 1922, Jonas Lie bought Howland Cottage in the Adirondacks to be near to his wife Inga. During this time he painted many winter landscapes reminiscent of his native Norway. After his wife’s death Lie and his daughter returned to New York where he became quite active socially as well as professionally with the New York City art scene. From 1934-1939 Lie served as the president of the National Academy of Design. After his death in January 1940 a memorial exhibition was arranged by the executors of Lie’s estate later that year showing fifty of the artist’s paintings. Lie was also honored posthumously by the US Marine Commission who named a Liberty ship after him.
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