Irene E. Gordon

b. 1912, Chicago, IL - d. 1982, Valparaiso, IN

Born in Chicago on February 17, 1912, Irean Ethel Gordon was the oldest of four children; her father Joseph was a tailor, and her mother Kitty Mulis, a homemaker. Her family lived in Tucson during her early childhood and returned to the Chicago area when she was a teen. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1929, and continued her education at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was a modernist painter, proficient in oil, watercolor, pen and ink, as well as sculpture and studied under Todros Geller. Irean married musician Leo Gordon in 1935, and had two sons. She played the piano and sang in community theater and continued making art. She worked for the Works Progress Administration easel program in Illinois and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1941–42 and again in 1948. Gordon remained active in her later years, teaching art to children in the basement of her home. She died of cancer in 1982 in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Women Washing Clothes, painted in 1935, typifies American Scene painting in its romanticized view of an urban back alley, which conveys the feeling of a small town within the large city. We can infer that the woman pictured has just come out of her row house, leaving the door open, to hang her clean wash on the line in the adjacent yard. The buildings are crowded together and rendered with wobbly, unstable lines. Even the stairways have awkward angles, and suggest the influence of expressionism, while the city’s skyscrapers lurk in the background. It’s an enigmatic juxtaposition of everyday life in the modern metropolis.

Lisa Meyerowitz


Gordon, Jeffrey. Email to Bernard Friedman, April 20, 2014.

Sokol, David. Engaging with the Present: The Contribution of the American Jewish Artists Club to Modern Art in Chicago 1928–2004, Exh. cat. Spertus Museum. Chicago: Spertus Press, 2004.

Yochim, Louis Dunn. Harvest of Freedom: A Survey of Jewish Artists in America. Chicago: American References, 1989.

Works by Irene E. Gordon