Thanksgiving by Doris Lee

Thanksgiving by Doris Lee is a famous artwork that won the prestigious Logan Purchase Prize. The painting represents a satiric portrait of the household formed as a result of hard life in the 1930s. This work had both public recognition and attention of critics for its high aesthetic quality and smart interpretation of the serious social problem. However, the author portrayed the celebration of Thanksgiving for a reason. It is indeed the family holiday for America. Doris Lee especially focused on the role of females in the society, so this work can be a visual illustration of the status of women in the private sphere and a general image of the exhausted American society in the era of the Great Depression.

The kitchen is the space in which all events occur. Women run from one corner to another in order to make all possible preparations for such an important celebration. The artist makes it clear that the essence of celebration for women is cooking, and this is a symbolic core of irony. In this particular way, Lee represents a social stereotype of females as housewives. This stereotype is always a disputable issue, but it was pivotal in the 1930s when the new identity was formed under the influence of the Great Depression. At that difficult time, the function of every American woman was to keep the household in perfect order and then feed the man who made money. It is not surprising that in the picture there are no men, as they belong to the outside world.

The identity of each character emerges through the body language and gestures, which also reflect the general mood of the work. The artist cleverly uses colours that create an ideal visual organization of figures, emphasizing the effect of the order. Each figure is carefully painted, creating a sense of balance and unity of the picture. Besides, the artist skilfully pictures the mood of fuss before the Thanksgiving Eve: the first woman is taking out the turkey, the other one is making the dough, and the third woman is preparing to set the table. By contrast, the artist depicts animals and children that play a symbolic role on this picture. The dog has escaped from the hustle and is sleeping under the hot oven, avoiding the general fuss. Accordingly, children are also opposed to the world of adults, because they are just playing games instead of working.

The picture has simple visual style but is also full of details that highlight the status of women in the society. The artist accurately depicts the elements of everyday life, each of which reflects the high level of housekeeping. For example, Doris Lee neatly underlines the oven with sunlight from the window, focusing on grooming and cleanliness. There is no trash on the floor, and there is also a broom that can be used at the right time. Doris Lee also carefully portrays a cupboard with plates, neatly ordered by the housekeeper. Such things as the small still-life painting, the clock, and the wallpaper design are a proof of Lee’s pedantic observation of the life at those times.

Thus, Thanksgiving by Doris Lee is not only a sketch of the social status of women but also a historical document of life in the 1930s. The artist depicts a flurry before the big holiday, which ideally represents concerned housewives. However, there are no men in this particular work, except for a little boy, which indicates a delineation of men and women at that time. The picture is not overloaded with unnecessary details and luxury items, indicating the difficult economical and cultural situation during the Great Depression. All this has the effect of absolute purity, which is a metaphor of the ideal women and the American life as well. As a result, this painting creates space for irony, akin to the works of Norman Rockwell whose characters always appear to be a mild criticism of the major American stereotypes.