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Dorothea A. Dreier papers, 1881-1941, bulk 1887-1923

Biographical Note

Dorothea A. Dreier was born on December 8, 1870, in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrant parents. The second of five children in a close knit, socially progressive family, her siblings include the social reformers and suffragettes Mary E. Dreier and Margaret Dreier Robins. However she was closest to her youngest sister, Katherine S. Dreier, fellow artist, patron of modern art and cofounder of the Société Anonyme, an organization dedicated to the promotion of modern art in the United States. Her sole brother, H. Edward Dreier, followed his father into business and managed the family investments.
Of all the Dreier sisters, Dorothea is the least well-known and there is scant information about her artistic career. It appears that she began her formal art training with John Twachtman and William Merritt Chase, although accounts disagree as to whether it took place at the Art Students League or the National Academy of Design. In 1904 Dorothea and her sister Katherine began studying with the painter Walter Shirlaw, with whom they developed a close friendship. Both sisters also traveled abroad frequently as the family maintained close ties with their German relatives and they combined these visits with trips to museums and galleries throughout Europe where they studied the works of the Old Masters as well as more contemporary artists. As evidenced by her series of oil paintings of Dutch weavers of 1908, Dorothea was greatly influenced by Van Gogh's early paintings of rural Dutch peasant life and she spent long periods abroad living and painting in Laren, The Netherlands. Her later paintings depicted landscapes, both in The Netherlands and the Adirondacks, as well as a series of New York street scenes.
Unfortunately, during a 1913 sojourn in Laren, Dorothea contracted tuberculosis. She remained at Saranac Lake, a renowned treatment center in the Adirondacks from late December 1913 to sometime in 1916. During her convalescence, Dorothea remained actively involved in the arts as she continued to paint and draw and supported her sister Katherine's work at the Cooperative Mural Workshop, a short-lived combination art school and workshop that focused on the decorative arts.
In 1920, Dorothea supported Katherine's decision to champion modern art and made generous financial contributions toward the establishment of the Société Anonyme, where Dorothea's first solo exhibition took place in 1921. This was her only solo exhibition prior to her untimely death in 1923. In the spring of 1925, Christian Brinton of the Brooklyn Museum of Art organized a memorial exhibition for which Katherine Dreier privately published a limited edition catalogue.