Object of the Week: The Black Teapot, by Jonas Lie

Jonas Lie (1880-1940) expressed an early interest in painting and from the age of twelve took art lessons first in Norway, then France and New York City, where he moved in 1893. To help support his mother and sister, Lie began working as a textile designer at a cotton factory in New York in 1897, but he refused to give up on dreams of becoming an artist. While working at the factory, Lie attended evening classes at the National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, and the Art Students League, improving and building upon his design skills. Lie kept up this grueling pace, working days and painting nights, until 1906, when he quit his factory job in order to focus on painting full time. Lie visited Norway and Paris in 1906 and again in 1909, and quickly became enamored with the French Impressionists, particularly the paintings of Claude Monet. After returning home, he adapted Monet’s use of bright color and sparkling light in his own work, painting scenes of everyday life in New York City, the New England countryside and coast, and the Adirondack wilderness in a style that combined elements of Realism and Impressionism. He quickly established a reputation as a skilled painter of land, city, and seascapes, as well as still lives that celebrated modern urban life. Painted in 1911 after Lie’s return to the United States from a trip abroad, The Black Teapot is a traditional still life that Lie transformed into a dramatic composition through his use of vivid colors and bold strokes of paint. Purple asters, vermillion nasturtiums, and freshly cut lilies spill across a glowing white table in a riot of color. Lie showed The Black Teapot in the groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show, the first large scale exhibition of modern art in the United States, along with three other works. While a still life might not have been an innovative subject, Lie’s expressive use of color and unique compositional choices ensured that The Black Teapot felt at home among other modern paintings. The Everson (then known as the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts) purchased The Black Teapot in 1913, just a few years after declaring it would only collect work made by American artists. Purchasing such a newly painted canvas confirmed not only the Museum’s interest in American artists, but also its commitment to acquiring work from living artists, a major investment by a museum at the time.

The Black Teapot is on view in Visions of America through August 19, 2018

-Steffi Chappell, Curatorial AssistantImage caption: Jonas Lie, The Black Teapot, 1911, oil on canvas, 35 x 42 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase, 13.121