Born in a small rural community in western Illinois near the Mississippi River, Doris Lee became part of an artistic community in New York in the 1930s that included Stuart Davis and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Her paintings are often filled with personal subject matter rendered in a representational style that synthesized Renaissance painting, European modernism, and American folk art.
In Illinois River Town, Lee re-imagines the Midwestern cityscape of her youth with humor and drama, akin to Brueghel and sixteenth-century Dutch landscapes. A lively scene of fishermen occupies the lowest register of the painting, cut off from the industrialized town by the broad horizontal expanse of river. The geometry of the buildings in the quaint town, along with the bridges and the classically arched pier that juts into the river, contrasts with the curvilinear forms of the figures and trees on the riverbank. During the Depression, Lee’s paintings were popular for their decorative qualities and positive emphasis on American experience.