Born near Baltimore, Lee Gatch began his formal artistic training at the Maryland Institute of Art, where he studied with Leon Kroll and John Sloan; he graduated with a traveling scholarship to the American School at Fontainebleau, France. Dissatisfied with the classes there, in 1924 Gatch moved to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Modern with Moise Kisling and André Lhote, a cubist academician. In France, he saw the paintings of Andre Derain, Edouard Vuillard, and Pierre Bonnard, and he admired their use of color to create a sense of space. Returning to the United States in 1925, Gatch had his first one-person show in 1932 in New York. Gatch spent the summer of 1935 in Yaddo, an artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with the painter Elsie Driggs, whom he later married. The couple moved to Lambertville, N.J., where he lived the rest of his life on a secluded farm. The landscape of western New Jersey provided his source of subject matter during most of his adult life; Gatch interpreted these themes in various ways, concentrating on formal and sometimes expressive aspects. Like his contemporaries, Avery, Dove, and Knaths, Gatch strove throughout his career to maintain an individual style based on the American representational tradition while reaching beyond appearances to find meaning through design and color.
About his complex, vibrant, poetic abstractions, Gatch wrote: “For me art should not be too cerebal [sic]. It is for rejoicing. As long as it bears the stamp of personality, that it communicates, and the over all image is an aesthetic entity, I will have fulfilled the eternal plea, ‘Art for Heaven’s Sake.’”
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Gatch’s work was widely exhibited, including representation in the Venice Biennales of 1950 and 1956. His paintings were popular, and the artist received many awards from American museums. In 1965 he received a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was inducted into the Academy the following year. He continued to work steadily until his death in 1968.