Lee Simonson, a major force in American scenic design, discovered in his youth what “painters’ and designers’ vision could do to revivify the theater.” After graduating from Harvard in 1909, he sought to become a muralist and went to Paris. There, over the course of three years, he honed his skills while attending some of the most experimental European theatrical productions. He also formed friendships with other American expatriates, notably the writer Gertrude Stein and the painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright.
When he created this self-portrait, he may still have been living in Paris. The painting shows his mastery of pattern and composition, and the areas of pure, vibrant color reveal his interest in Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and the French contemporary painters known as the Fauves. Upon returning to New York City, in 1912, Simonson felt determined to launch his career as a set designer.


  • Title: Lee Simonson Self-Portrait
  • Creator: Lee Simonson
  • Date Created: c. 1912
  • Physical Dimensions: w81.9 x h102.2 x d2.5 cm (Stretcher)
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Karl and Jody Simonson; Frame conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee
  • External Link: https://npg.si.edu/portraits
  • Classification: Painting

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