William Grimes reports in the New York Times that Lee Hall, an abstract painter who also authored the controversial 1993 biography Elaine and Bill: Portrait of a Marriage about Elaine and William de Kooning, has died. She was born in 1934 in Lexington, North Carolina, and enrolled in the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she studied with the abstract painter John Opper, and in 1955, earned a bachelor of fine arts degree. Hall went on to receive a master’s degree in art education at New York University in 1959, and a doctorate in creative arts in 1965. She also did postdoctoral work at the Warburg Institute in London.
In 1965, Hall was named head of the art department at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and she later served as president of the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s and 1980s. Hall was appointed in 1975 and was tasked with pulling the school out of a fiscal crisis. Her tenure was notable for ending the practice of deficit spending and increasing enrollment, though this did not win her much admiration among the faculty. They responded to her efforts by organizing a union drive and, in early 1983, going on strike. Teachers even collected quarters to buy Hall a one-way ticket back to New York. She eventually left the school later that year and took a senior executive position at the Academy for Educational Development in New York, a nonprofit group that organized educational, health, and economic programs for underprivileged students in the United States and abroad. During this time, she also showed at the legendary Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. After Parsons died in 1982, Hall wrote her biography, which was published in 1991 as Betty Parsons: Artist, Dealer, Collector. She also stopped showing her work after the Betty Parsons Gallery closed, soon after Parsons’s death.
Hall’s biography of the de Koonings, published in 1993, faced much criticism, with friends of the couple feeling betrayed. The book was largely based on extensive conversations with Elaine de Kooning, a close friend, and it offered details of heavy drinking and the casual affairs indulged in by both partners. The biography also credited Elaine’s promotion of her husband’s work as a major factor in his success. Other books Hall wrote included two monographs, Wallace Herndon Smith: Paintings (1987) and Abe Ajay (1990), and a political history of the fashion industry, Common Threads: A Parade of American Clothing (1992), as well as Athena: A Biography (1997), which took the Greek goddess as its subject.