Lee Godie, A hand painting, pen and brush by Lee Godie, pen and paint on canvas, varnish, n.d.

Lee Godie, Untitled (5 Females with Grapes), paint and ink on canvas, n.d.

Lee Godie

Lee Godie appeared on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968 as a self-proclaimed French Impressionist and pronounced herself superior to Cézanne. Because she lived on the street, Godie’s “studio” changed locations constantly, but she lived and worked primarily in Chicago’s downtown Loop and Gold Coast neighborhoods, and was known as a fixture at the museum. She thrived on the connectedness she felt to the city. “Chicago! A Heaven on Earth” appears on many paintings as a tribute to the city streets she gladly called home. Godie’s art began with the creation of her artistic identity and included a prolific body of paintings, drawings, photographic self-portraits and writings. She was best known for her paintings, and her most prevalent subjects were female busts. As a self-titled portraitist, she drew from her own image and those of friends, celebrities and passersby. Most interesting were the archetypal characters she created—part cultural icon, part personal symbolism, including The Prince of the City, The Gibson Girl, and Flaming Youth.

Although Godie maintained a staunch sense of privacy, as an artist she was a public figure, interacting with her audience in a way that few artists do: by selling her work herself in outdoor settings. This process was highly valued by her patrons; they did not just want her work, they wanted to buy it from Godie. The interaction was part of the magic, even part of the art itself. An instinctive performer, she was often known to sing and dance, and channeled this theatricality into selling and making her art. To say that there was a Godie style is an understatement. There was a Godie way of life—one so unique, creative and genuine that it captured the attention and heart of seemingly everyone who met her, making her arguably Chicago’s most beloved and collected artist.