Born in Chicago, Ellen Lanyon (1926-2013) studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA, 1948) and the University of Iowa, Iowa City (MFA, 1950). She completed her education at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in 1950-1951 while on a Fulbright grant. Lanyon spent the early part of her career in her hometown and she was often identified with Chicago Imagism. In the 1970s she moved to New York, where she became a member of the Heresies magazine collective.
Noting that Lanyon was once pejoratively dubbed a “Corn Belt Surrealist,” critic Lucy Lippard has analyzed the centrality of ecology and metaphors of transformation within the artist’s paintings, drawings, and prints, describing her as “naturalist and fantasist, Audubon and Pygmalion in female form.” Lanyon’s meticulously realized “dreamscapes” often combine animal, vegetal, and floral motifs into fantastical and semiautobiographical compositions that reflect her private mythology. Her frequent depiction of everyday objects with simultaneously domestic and sinister connotations—including scissors, sewing needles, and cutlery, objects that evoke Victorian Americana as well as Surrealist dream objects—has elicited comparisons between her work and Metaphysical Painting of the 1910s and 1920s. It has also situated her among a generation of feminist artists whose embrace of intimacy and sentiment offered a counterpoint to modernism’s supposed neutrality.
Lanyon has been the subject of retrospectives at the Chicago Cultural Center (1987, traveled); National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC (1999); and Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University, IN (2007, traveled). Her work is included in the collections of major museums throughout the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Modern Art, and the Walker Art Center.