The life and works of Austrian artist Lily Spandorf was celebrated with a special exhibition at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. For over thirty years she has captured the essence of Washington in watercolors and gouache. Fifty-four paintings document the urban landscape of old Washington, D.C. and its historical buildings, many of which have been lost through modern real estate development which began in the 1960s. By juxtaposing views of these buildings with Spandorf’s visual depiction of the sites, the exhibit clearly reveals how urbanization has changed the face of Washington.
Austrian native Lily Spandorf was born in 1919 and was an honors graduate of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In 1938 she left Vienna for London where she spent twenty-one years from 1938-1959. During those years she studied at St. Martin’s School of Art and worked as an artist and author before traveling to Italy where her work in watercolor and gouache met with wide acclaim. In 1959 she came to New York where impressionistic works were very popular, but she felt the city was too vast and too hectic and in 1960 she came to Washington. She was captivated by the city’s charm and beauty and immediately met with artistic success. With her paintings and other artistic endeavors she soon became “something of a Washington trademark,” as the Washington Post reported on February 7, 2000.
Lily Spandorf’s work was frequently exhibited in Washington, New York and Europe. She sketched and painted decorations of the White House and was commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson to paint several scenes of Washington which were given as official presidential gifts to visiting dignitaries. Among the recipients were Princess Margaret of Great Britain and South Korean President Chung Hee Park. As a prolific painter of Washington landscapes, she was a favorite of the Kennedy Administration. She began documenting White House Christmases while working for the Washington Star and continued to record the occasion through six administrations. In 1963 the U.S. Post Office issued a Christmas stamp featuring her painting of the National Christmas Tree. Her works are held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, White House, Museum of Fine Arts, and the Municipal Museum of Rome, Italy. Some of her paintings of now vanished Washington scenes and buildings were published in a 1988 book, “Washington Never More.” As the Washington Star once remarked, without her efforts many of Washington’s historic views “might have disappeared forever into the darkness of an undocumented past. What Maurice Utrillo was to Paris … Lily Spandorf is to Washington.”
As an artistic contributor Spandorf made sketches and paintings illustrating breaking news and features about the city for publications like the Washington Post, the Washingtonian, the National Geographic and most often, for the Washington Evening Star. In Washington, D.C. she was an active participant in the art community and held memberships in the National Press Club, the American News-women Club and the Society of Women Geographers. She passed away in 2000, leaving her collection of caricatures - people who were long-term Senate members, foreign dignitaries, former presidents, television news journalists, politicians, entertainers and well-known journalists - to the archives of the National Press Club.