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Edward Laning (1906 – 1981)

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Prairie Woman – Portrait of Elizabeth Nottingham, 1930, oil on canvas, 26 x 20 inches, signed middle left, titled “Eliz Nottingham” upper left, dated “MCXXX” upper left, inscribed verso “Edward Laning Miller Mural Class”; provenance includes: Elizabeth Nottingham until 1956; Horace Day (Nottingham’s husband, who was also an artist) until 1984; H. Talmage Day (Horace Day’s son); private collection New Jersey


About the Painting

The sitter, Elizabeth Nottingham, was an important Virginia painter, arts Supervisor for the Federal Art Project in Lynchburg during the WPA era, and teacher at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton. Descended through Nottingham’s family, the painting is a wonderful example of early 1930s American portraiture which draws heavily on Italian Renaissance traditions. Below are the recollections about the portrait from H. Talmage Day, the son of Nottingham’s widower, the artist Horace Day: “Elizabeth Nottingham posed in costume in 1930 for Edward Laning while he was a student in a mural class taught by Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League. From a handwritten note on the back of the canvas, it appears that the portrait was done as a project in that class. Nottingham’s costume reflects the Central Plains, where Laning was born. The pose and execution draw from the Italian Renaissance, which was the great inspiration in so much of Laning’s work. While the painting is a likeness, that is not the painting’s primary aesthetic aim. Laning was, by then, an advanced student at the League; Elizabeth Nottingham, born a year later, was in only her second year because she had completed an undergraduate program at Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, graduating in 1928 before entering the League. She was 23 when she sat for the portrait. Between 1928 and 1931, Laning and Nottingham were in a serious relationship that afforded her great intellectual and emotional stimulation. Although the relationship concluded as a practical matter when Notthingham left for Europe on one of the first McDowell traveling fellowships awarded by the League, Laning and his future wife, Mary Fife, with whom Notthingham traveled during part of her fellowship, remained lifelong friends. Elizabeth Notthingham later married Horace Day, another artist whom she had come to know at the League. Prairie Woman was in Notthingham’s estate when she died in 1956. The title and inspiration for the portrait described in these notes reflect observations made by my father, Horace Day, from time to time when we looked at the painting. When Horace Day died in 1984, the painting passed to me under his will.”

About the Artist

A Midwestern native, Edward Laning was a premier American Scene painter and muralist. He initially studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by the University of Chicago, and the Art Students League in New York under Max Weber, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Laning won traveling grants from the Guggenheim and Fulbright foundations and studied in Rome in 1929 and 1931, where he experienced first-hand the monumentality of old master Renaissance and Baroque mural painting. Much of Laning’s work during the 1930s and 1940s, owed a debt to his time in Italy, as well as the influence of Miller, another chronicler of the American Scene who was influenced by the old masters. Laning was a prolific mural painter during the WPA era, completing projects in North Carolina, Kentucky, and several locations in New York. In 1943 and 1944, Laning worked as an artist-correspondent for Life magazine. He served as an art instructor at some of the nation’s most important schools, including The Art Students League, The Cooper Union, and the Kansas City Art Institute. He was honored to become a National Academician in 1958. During his long career, Laning exhibited extensively at the Corcoran Gallery (Washington DC), Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, National Academy of Design, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, among many others. Laning is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.


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