Elsie Driggs (1898 - 1992 )

Born in 1898, Elsie Driggs grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. She moved to New York to pursue art and was strongly affiliated with the Precisionist movement. In the 1920s she distinguished herself through her response to the industrial age using concise, clean lines in simplified compositions. She studied at the Art Students League (1919-1925) and later with Maurice Stern in Rome. In 1935 she received a Yado Foundation Fellowship and helped with murals for the Federal Art Project in the 1930s.

In 1935 Driggs and her husband Lee Gatch, also an artist, moved to Lambertville, New Jersey, where they lived until Gatch’s death in 1968. Driggs afterwards moved back to New York City. Her work is owned by the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, and many other institutions.(1-3)



Portrait, c.1924-27. Photograph courtesy Pedersen Gallery, Lambertville (609/397-1332).
Queensborough Bridge

Queensborough Bridge, 1927, oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches. Montclair Art Museum.
Break Dancing

Break Dancing, 1983, oil on linen, 48 by 36 inches, signed and dated lower right. Photograph courtesy Rago Arts (

American artists were very influenced by European styles. Precisionism was much like the Neue Sachlichkeit in German Contemporary Art. With many precisionist painters like Driggs and Charles Sheeler, the art became a celebration of national self-confidence. Precisionism generally focused on industrial landscapes like Elsie Driggs’s “Pittsburg” (1927).(1)

In “Pittsburg,” Driggs shows the factory smokestacks as powerful totemic objects. This painting was inspired by the Jones and Laughlin steel mills of which Elsie Driggs said, “The particles of dust in the air seemed to catch and reflect light to make a back drop of luminous pale gray shapes of simple smoke stack and cone. To me this was Greek.”(1)

Oskar Schlemmer, a German artist, best described the Precisionist motive when he said, “If today’s artists love the machine, and organization, if they aspire to precision and reject anything vague and dreamy. This implies an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate to our times.”(1)

Along with Georgia O’Keeffe, Elsie Driggs was one of the only women artists who participated in the Precisionist movement in American Art. Driggs’ pieces are largely composed of meticulous straight lines and geometric shapes. Her rendition of “Queensborough Bridge,” painted in 1927, is a quintessential example of the subject matter and style associated with this 1920’s art movement. The painting is owned by the Montclair Art Museum.

There is no doubt that Elsie Driggs made her mark within this movement. However, after painting in the Precisionist style for a time, she turned away from the style in the 1930s. The third painting above, “Break Dancing,” was painted after the artist returned to New York City. It shows the newly opened twin towers of the World Trade Center as a backdrop for the popular street dance of the day.



(1) (see link below).

(2) (see link below).

(3) (see link below).

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