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Percy Leason papers, circa 1929-2011

Percy Leason papers, circa 1929-2011

Leason, Percy Alexander, 1889-1959

Painter, Educator, Portrait painter, Illustrator

Collection Information

Size: 1.3 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, illustrator, and educator Percy Leason measure 1.3 linear feet and date from circa 1929 to 2011. The collection documents his career through biographical material, correspondence, diaries, writings and notes, printed material, photographic material, and a scrapbook.

Biographical materials include financial records, biographical statements about the artist, certificates, and a few sketches. Correspondence contains letters and writings of Max Leason, Percy Leason's son, correspondence to and from Percy Leason, letters from congressmen, and letters regarding Leason's work displayed at the State Library of Victoria, in Australia. Four diaries document Leason's life over 20 years. A series of published and unpublished writings and notes includes two DVDs of Leason's writings. Printed material contains new clippings, gallery flyers, a framed statement about art, and the book, "The Science of Appearances," by Max Meldrum, with typed pages written by Leason inserted into the book. Photographic materials include slides and a DVD of Leason's artwork, personal photographs, and photographs of the State Library of Victoria. One scrapbook contains mostly news clippings and other printed material.

Scattered throughout the collection are annotations made by Max Leason which are usually signed "Max" with the date of annotation.

Biographical/Historical Note

Percy Leason (1889-1959) was a painter, illustrator, writer, and educator from Kaniva, Victoria, in Australia.


Donated in 1969-1979 and 2014 by Max A. Leason, Percy Leason's son.

A Finding Aid to the Percy Leason Papers, circa 1929-2011, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Percy Leason (1889-1959) was a painter, illustrator, writer, and educator from Kaniva, Victoria in Australia. Leason took an interest in art at an early age winning first prize in painting at the 1904 State Fair. He later attended art school in the town of Nhill, and in 1906, he went to Melbourne to be an apprentice at Sands and McDougall Lithographers. Soon after starting his apprenticeship, Leason moved to the art department where he began drawing illustrations for products and advertisements. In the evenings, he attended the Melbourne Gallery School where he studied art under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin. While in Melbourne, Leason associated himself with the Victorian Artist Society and lived a bohemian lifestyle. He began creating illustrations for books in 1914 and went on to do illustrations for the Sydney Bulletin, Melbourne Punch, Tabletalk Magazine, and the Melbourne Herald where he developed the Wiregrass cartoon series. In 1924, Leason and Max Meldrum, who Leason had met a few years before, discussed tonal realism, a systematic style of painting that uses light and shade to produce a misty quality. Leason's devotion to tonal realism along with his participation in Victorian Artist Society exhibitions helped advance his career. In 1934 Melbourne University commissioned him to do a series on Australian aborigines. He became interested in cave art and archeology during this time. In Cambridge, England in 1937 he presented his theory that cave artists sketched using dead animals as models.
Due to the impending World War, art scene rivalries, and the lack of commercial art employment prospects, Leason immigrated to New York in 1938 in search of more opportunities in the United States. Before emigrating to the U.S., he completed a portrait of Basil Burdett which now hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia. His career in New York included work for New York Daily News, Blue Book Magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, Street and Smith, and book illustrations for
The Wizard of Oz
by Frank Baum (Whitman Publishing Company) in 1939. In New York, Leason continued his opposition to modernist and expressionist art by aligning himself with the Salmagundi Club, Allied Artists, and the American Artist Professional League, all of which supported tonal realism. In association with Portraits Incorporated in New York, he painted the portraits of TV personality Arlene Francis, Michael Engel of Grumbacker art supplies, and Missouri congressman Dewey Short whose portrait is housed in the House of Representative's collection in Washington D.C.
By the late 1950's, Leason had difficulties within the art world because the trends in art no longer held a place for his tonal realism. He died in 1959 on Staten Island in New York. As a tribute to Leason after his death, the Staten Island Institute and the Salmagundi Club held retrospective exhibitions of his work.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 7 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1939-1957, 2006 (5 folders; Box 1, 2)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1946-1973 (4 folders, Box 1)
Series 3: Diaries, 1938-1959 (0.3 linear ft.; Box 1)
Series 4: Writings and Notes, 1939-2011 (6 folders, Box 1)
Series 5: Printed Material, circa 1946-1973 (4 folders; Box 1)
Series 6: Photographic Materials, circa 1969-1972 (0.2 linear ft.; Box 1, 2)
Series 7: Scrapbook, 1938-1972 (0.1 linear ft.; Box 2)
Donated in 1969-1979 and 2014 by Max A. Leason, Percy Leason's son.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Sarah Mundy in 2014. The collection has been minimally rearranged and retains the existing/original folder titles when possible. All materials have been rehoused in archival folders and boxes for long-term stability, but often staples and other fasteners have not been removed. Materials within folders have not been rearranged.

Additional Forms Available

Microfilm reels 74, 999-1000, 1050 & 3090 available for use at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Percy Leason papers, circa 1929-2011. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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