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#SouthOfUnionSquare, the Birthplace of American Modernism: Lucile Blanch

South of Union Square, the Birthplace of American Modernism” is a series that explores how the area south of Union Square shaped some of the most influential American artists of the 20th century.

Lucile Blanch circa 1930. Peter A. Juley & Son.
Lucile Blanch, “Flowers”, 1927.

Throughout the 20th century, the area south of Union Square attracted painters, writers, publishers, and radical social organizations, many of whom were challenging accepted American social and cultural ideals. This area is a true crossroads — where art, politics, industry, commerce, the New York elite, and the working class collided to create an eclectic culture and built environment that helped shift the center of the global art world to New York City. In addition to its namesake social realist art movement — the Fourteenth Street School — the neighborhood South of Union Square and its environs were host to a number of influential artists and movements like Abstract Expressionism, the Ninth Street Five, and “The Club.” 

Lucile Blanch at work in her studio at 30 East 14th Street photographed by the WPA Federal Art Project. Max Yavno. Lucile Blanch, 1940 Oct. 31. Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection, circa 1920-1965. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Lucile Blanch, “8th Avenue and 56th Street,” oil on canvas, 1930.

One artist whose New York studio was located in the neighborhood South of Union Square and whose work spanned social realist representation and abstraction was Lucile Lindquist Blanch (December 31, 1895 – October 31, 1981). Blanch was born in Hawley, Minnesota and studied at the Minneapolis School of Art on a full scholarship. After completing the program in 1918, she was one of 10 artists nationwide selected to attend the Art Students League of New York on a full scholarship. There, she studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller who came to be known as the leader of the Fourteenth Street School of artists. Around 1930, Lucile Blanch and her husband, Arnold Blanch, lived in San Francisco for a short time where they became close friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera during their time in the United States. Kahlo and Blanch became close friends, painting together every day. Art historian Celia Stahr says this tine together was helpful for Kahlo’s artistic development.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo with Lucile and Arnold Blanch, San Francisco, California. (Left to Right: Lucile Blanch, Diego Rivera, Arnold Blanch, and Frida Kahlo.) Photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son. Courtesy the Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Lucile Blanch, “Circus Angels,” 1928. Whitney Museum of American Art.

When the couple returned to New York, they kept studios in the same building as Miller and other Art Students League instructors and students Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Minna Citron, Agnes Hart, and others at 30 East 14th Street, a five-story structure built in 1880 as a retail store and lofts for W. Jennings Demorest. In 1933, Lucile Blanch was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for painting and lithography. Her work was exhibited and collected by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.

Lucile Blanch, “Cheif Oceola Holds Court with his Cheifs”, 1938. Mural for City Hall Fort Pierce, Florida.
Lucile Blanch, “The Music Listener”, oil on canvas, 1949.

Lucile Blanch, “High Tension”, 1951-1953. Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art.

Blanch was also heavily involved in the Works Progress Administration arts and mural painting program. Throughout her life, Lucile Blanch was heavily involved in the Woodstock Artists Colony alongside fellow 30 East 14th Street artists Agnes Hart and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Lucile Blanch’s art career and aesthetic evolution are an excellent representation of the tight-knit art community and reciprocal exchange of ideas in the neighborhood South of Union Square.

Façade of 30 East 14th Street Artist Studios via Apartments.com.
Facade of 30 East 14th Street in 1959

Village Preservation’s proposed South of Union Square Historic District was recently named one of 2022-2023’s “Seven to Save” — the biannual list of the most important endangered historic sites in New York State — by the Preservation League of New York State. This designation shines a spotlight on the incredibly valuable and varied architecture of this neighborhood, and its deep connections to civil rights and social justice history as well as transformative artistic, literary, and musical movements. With a new mayoral administration, Village Preservation is releasing new information, programs, and initiatives about the area South of Union Square.

To learn more about the neighborhood, check out our new and frequently updated South of Union Square Map and Tours. We have received a series of extraordinary letters from individuals across the world expressing support for our campaign to create a historic district for the neighborhood South of Union Square. To help protect these incredible historic structures and other buildings in this neighborhood, click here.

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