DE LAPPE, “Roman Boarding House, Mussolini Photo on Wall,” 1933


Graphite on tan paper, 11 7/8 x 17 13/16 inches

SKU: DFA899 Category: Tag:

PELE MURDOCK DE LAPPE (American 1916-2007)

With an uncanny knack for being at the right places at the right times, Petaluma artist, writer, and activist Pele de Lappe took a great deal from the 20th century. Born, in her words, to “nutty bohemian” parents in 1916, she was introduced to James Joyce in a Parisian cafe at age 10, took her first lover at 14, and was dismissed from traditional education by her father and sent to art school before she was15. She regularly entertained Frida Kahlo as an after school drawing buddy.

By 19, de Lappe was a member of the Communist Party, had seduced David Siqueiros and discarded him, had lived at the artist colony in Woodstock, N.Y., and was firmly ensconced in her own apartment in Manhattan. “Why the hell don’t you get married?” her father asked, supplying the candidate, a Marxist attorney—who did indeed become de Lappe’s first husband.

She studied with Arnold Blanche in California, then at the Art Students League, New York, 1931 to 1933, where she assisted Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center mural and posed as a model. Working for leftist publications The People’s Daily World, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Masses, she was close to the “Ash-Can School” artists. Her prints and drawings are exquisitely rendered. In the present sheet, amusingly conceived—a drawn portrait of an unsmiling Mussolini oversees erotic play under the tablecloth.

Whether picketing with angry longshoremen, marching with disenfranchised farm workers, or standing on a Petaluma street corner protesting the Bush administration’s nefarious ways, de Lappe was tirelessly creative in a life of consciousness and conscience.