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Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle

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Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle, Climate of the Heart #7, 1956. Courtesy: Inman Gallery, Houston

Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle, Climate of the Heart #7, 1956. Courtesy: Inman Gallery, Houston

Inman Gallery presents a solo booth of paintings and works on paper by American Modernist Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle, (b.1901, Nebraska—d.2002, Texas).

Although she lived in North Texas and spent 44 years teaching art at a local women’s college, LaSelle was an early and intuitive student of modernism. Profoundly influenced by images of the 1913 Armory Show, LaSelle’s own practice was resolutely abstract by the mid–late 1930s, a lonely activity in a region steeped in narrative and representational traditions. LaSelle’s most influential teachers and mentors were European emigres Hans Hofmann and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, both of whom she maintained relationships with. LaSelle periodically gave lectures at the Dallas Museum of Art on their work, in 1942 she invited Moholy-Nagy to visit her students, and she helped arrange a show at the DMA for Hofmann in 1947.

Not entirely unheralded in her lifetime, the Dallas Museum of Art mounted a solo exhibition of charcoal drawings in 1948 and later included her work in group exhibitions. LaSelle’s one solo gallery exhibition in New York (1950) was well received, meriting a mention in the New York Times. In 1959, the Ft. Worth Art Center mounted a major retrospective of LaSelle’s work, for which Hofmann wrote the foreword to the exhibition catalogue. LaSelle’s paintings and works on paper are stellar examples of the vitality of non-objective painting at midcentury, and deserve to be recognized alongside other abstract artists of the Post-War period. Our booth presents work from the 1940s–1960s.

LaSelle earned a BA from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1923, and went on to earn an MA in art history from the University of Chicago in 1926. After working briefly at Stephens College in Missouri, she traveled to Europe and spent six months studying in England, Italy, and France. What started as a temporary position at Texas State College for Women (now Texas Women’s University), in Denton, Texas, in 1928, turned into a full time position when she became responsible for development of the art history program at the school. She remained at TSCW/TWU until her retirement in 1972, a dedicated teacher for 44 years.

Despite her dedication to her teaching, she strongly asserted that she was “a Painter who tried to teach – (and not the other way around.)” In the summers of 1942 and 1943 she studied with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Kepes and Robert Bruce Tague at The School of Design in Chicago, first known as the new Bauhaus. From 1944-1953, LaSelle regularly attended sessions of Hans Hofmann’s schools in New York and Provincetown, MA.

By the late 1940s, LaSelle gained critical attention, with a solo exhibition of drawings at the Dallas Museum of Art (1948) and a New York solo exhibition at the Pinacotheca (Rose Fried Gallery) in June 1950. In her lifetime, two major museums acquired LaSelle’s work, the Dallas Museum of Art (1972) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1995). Since her passing in 2002 at the age of 100, her work has entered the collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection, Houston.