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Lil Picard Papers

Identifier: MsC0817

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Scope and Contents

Ms. Picard bequeathed her entire estate to the University of Iowa, and it was transfered to the University under terms of an agreement with her executors. Two paragraphs of that agreement read:   "The University of Iowa agrees to make every reasonable effort to preserve and conserve Lil Picard's artworks, papers, writings and other materials ("Works"), and to retain and create records for all Works of historical or artistic interest and importance. The University shall have the right to use any and all of these Works as it deems appropriate, including but not limited to, as part of its historic collections, in exhibitions and for the purpose of study and research by students, faculty and others."   "The University shall have the right to reproduce, publish and make available for publication by others her writings, her art and other creative work. The gift includes the copyrights to all of Lil Picard's own creative works and any interests and rights she may have had in the creative work of others which she owned."


  • Creation: 1899-1994


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Lil Picard's artwork is held by the Stanley Museum of art and stored there. They are currently inaccessible at this time, 12/2021.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Biographical / Historical

The biographical/scope and content note which follows is an edited version of the June 1997 text Jean-Noel Herlin prepared as an introduction to his appraisal of the Picard estate. The appraisal inventory is also the base of this finding aid, although the parts of it (and the collection itself) have been reorganized to collapse numerous addenda into appropriate series.

"A Gertrude Stein of the New York Art Scene." “The Muse of the American Avant Garde.” "The Grand Mother of the Hippies": these headlines only partially describe the charismatic personality who inspired them and whose name, except from those who knew her, evokes no more than faint recognition, when any. It is therefore appropriate to begin the inventory of her archive, library, art works and collection of works by other artists with an outline of Lil Picard's life and careers. [1]

Lil Picard was born Lilli Elisabeth Benedick [2] on October 4, 1899 in Landau, in the Rhenish Palatinate, the only child of Jakob, a wine grower and merchant, and Rosalie Benedick. Her childhood and adolescence were spent in Strasbourg, a German city since 1871, but with strong bi-cultural accents. From an unhappy childhood, between an indifferent father and a hated mother, she found evasion and the life of imagination in the world of books. Westermann's Monatshefte gave her her first education in art and inspired her to draw at an early age.

Shortly after the end of World War I, in 1918, she meets Fritz Picard, a radical intellectual, whom, in spite of parental disapproval, she joins in Berlin. Married in 1921, the couple becomes involved in the effervescent milieu of writers, artists, composers, filmmakers, actors, social agitators and demi-monde, who had flocked to the German capital after the Great War. Lil Picard takes ballet lessons and, with the mother of the dadaist writer Walter Mehring, singing lessons, leading to appearances in cabaret revues and a very brief part in the film Variété, starring Lya de Putti and Emil Jannings.

In 1926 she divorces Fritz Picard. Her career in show business cut short by a skin condition (for decades she was afflicted by shingles), she turns to journalism. Based in Vienna since 1928, she writes a feuilleton for the Berliner Börsenkurier and occasionally works as a fashion designer and model. Back in Berlin in 1933, the year of Hitler's accession to power, she becomes the successful fashion editor of the Zeitschrift für Deutshe Konfektion, and contributor to the fashion and women's supplements of the Berliner Tageblatt, among other publications. In 1935 she remarries with a banker, Hans Felix Jüdell. Alarmed by the anti-Semitic policy of the national socialist government, the couple immigrates to the United States and arrives in New York City in November 1936.

The assistance of well-connected sponsors and acquaintances and Lil Picard's engaging and willful demeanor facilitate their resettlement. Hans Jüdell resumes work in banking, eventually changing his name to Henry Odell. Lil Picard takes English lessons and, at night, design and lettering classes at the Art Students League. The attire accessories and costume jewelry she designs are sold in the department stores Lord & Taylor and Macy's. In 1939, she establishes a milliner studio at 555 Madison Avenue and on January 21, 1942, with a two-year contract, opens her "Custom Hat Box" in another department store, Bloomingdale's. [3] In 1947 the writer Patricia Highsmith, who became a lifelong friend, introduces her to the art of the nascent New York School of abstract expressionist painters. Over the next few years, particularly through Alfred Jensen whom she meets in 1952, she becomes acquainted with most of the younger artists working in New York at the time: Seymour Boardman, Sam Francis, John Grillo, Franz Kline, Raymond Parker, and Mark Rothko, among others.

During the next three decades, Lil Picard supports herself as a journalist while fulfilling her desire to, in earnest, be an artist. Beginning in 1953, she publishes in numerous German language newspapers and magazines interviews with artists, reports and commentaries on current art and cultural events, and articles on fashion and lifestyles. From 1960 to 1975, she is the art correspondent in New York for one of the most widely read German dailies, Die Welt. She also contributes regularly to two major art magazines of the period: Das Kunstwerk, from 1964 to 1972, and Kunstforum, during the 1970's until 1982. Through these writings, Lil Picard is largely responsible for fashioning the perceptions of American art by the German public, especially at the advent of Pop Art, of which she was an early enthusiastic champion. During the 1960's and 1970's she also published several dozen articles for such American publications as Arts Magazine, Andy Warhol's Interview, and The East Village Other.

Concurrently, from 1955 to 1981, Lil Picard had fifteen solo exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, watercolors and drawings, collages and assemblages, in the United States and Germany, and her work was included in more than forty group shows, most notably the two-part landmark exhibition "New Forms - New Media" at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1960, "12 Evenings of Manipulations" at the Judson Gallery, and "Destruction Art" at the Finch College Museum of Art the following year. In the charged climate of the 1960's and 1970's, she found in the burgeoning art of performance a vehicle for her militant views on the Viet-Nam war, social oppression and gender issues, giving her first performance in 1964, in her apartment, and her last in 1981. Her 1967 performance, "Construction - Destruction - Construction," was filmed by Andy Warhol and occupies a thirty-minute segment in "****" [Four Stars].

Between 1967 and 1975, she participated in six Avant Garde Festivals of New York. In 1972 she was one of the organizers of the "American Woman Artists" show at the Hamburg Kunsthaus. In 1976, shortly before Henry Odell's death, she had a retrospective at Goethe House in New York City, and, simultaneously, exhibitions of recent work at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts and the Holly Solomon Gallery. That same year she was one of the recipients of the International Women's Year Award. With the exception of a few works executed later, the series of small collages on wood from 1983 to 1985 represent her last creative effort. Increasingly blind during her last years, Lil Picard became reclusive, dying without descendants on May 10, 1994. Emancipated and financially independent when few women were, having demonstrated a capacity to overcome personal and historical adversities by reinventing herself, and in her work, the daring to test boundaries, as well as a commitment to social justice, equality and peace, Lil Picard was not unaware that she has a place in the history of her time.

Except for a few items from the German period of her life, Lil Picard's archives primarily document her life and careers after her arrival in the United States and are particularly comprehensive from the early 1950's on. They are divided into seven sections. Within the correspondence, however, the exchange between Lil Picard and Alfred Jensen must be noted. An uncommon instance in which the writings of both parties are extant in one place, the 360 letters from Lil Picard to Alfred Jensen and his nearly 400 letters to her, for a total of more than 3600 pages, constitute an indispensable document for the understanding of both artists, written over the period when one strives to assert herself as an artist and the other is developing the mature style on which rests his international reputation, sharing and illustrating in his letters the evolution of his thinking. Moreover, Jensen's part of the correspondence contains numerous and valuable insights and anecdotes regarding the art and artists of the period, recounting entire conversations with Mark Rothko or meetings at the Cedar Bar with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, George McNeil, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others.

Over 800 artworks by Lil Picard have been catalogued and estate stamped. Dating back to the late 1910's through 1988, they represent every period and every medium of Lil Picard's work. Lists of accessories and relics from her performances, and of working material, accompany the catalogue of her works.

Finally, a record of Lil Picard's friendships with artists rather than a formal art collection, there are approximately 500 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, assemblages, collages, and mail art works. [3] They include a 1962 painting by Yves Klein, approximately 25 paintings and prints, as well as an important group of circa 100 items by Alfred Jensen. There are also works by Andy Warhol, Roy Adzak, Arman, Seymour Boardman, Sam Francis, John Grillo, Emil van Hauth, Jon Hendricks, Peter Hutchinson, E.N. de Kermadec, Arthur Køpeke, Les Levine, K.R.H. Sonderborg, Günther Ueeker, Wolf Vostell, approximately 170 pieces by Guerrilla Art Action Group, and circa 80 pieces by Ray Johnson.


89.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Correspondence and related files of an artist, art journalist, and collector. Picard was born in Germany but migrated to New York City with her second husband in 1936. Exhibiting her own work, her writing about New York City art, and her extensive collecting made her a central figure in New York art until very near the end of her life.

Method of Acquisition

Lil Picard bequeathed her entire estate to the University of Iowa.

Related Materials

Portions of the Picard Papers are closely related to materials represented in the Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts collections.

Materials Specific Details

Notes to introduction:

[1] This outline is based on Picard's archives and on Hubert Fichte's Paraleipomena, Lil’s Book, the book-length transcript of interviews conducted by the German writer from November 1975 to February 1976 and October 1, 1979, posthumously published in 1991.

[2] This spelling is taken from the copy of Picard's birth certificate. Later she adopted the spelling "Benedickt."

[3] Picard's library was not preserved intact. In order to meet final estate expenses, her executors offered it en bloc to the University of Iowa. Iowa decided against it on grounds of limited funds and the large number of items that would duplicate existing holdings.After being offered elsewhere without success, the executors transferred it to Iowa in 2009. The library contained approximately 2550 art books, exhibition and auction catalogs, and nearly 1200 issues of periodicals (over 160 titles), mostly published from the 1950's to the early 1980's, as well as approximately 225 volumes of fiction, poetry and theater by contemporary writers and on such current issues as civil rights, feminism, and ecology. Items not otherwise held were added to the Libraries' general collections; inscribed and otherwise special items were added to the "x" collection. All of Picard’s art was accepted by The University of Iowa and resides in the Museum of Art. Again to meet estate expenses, most of the works by other artists were sold and only selected items were acquired by the UIMA.

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Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)