Lillian Orloff (left) and Virginia La Bette (right) pose on the deck of their ship just before leaving New York. Courtesy Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 26, 1929, p. 32
Lillian Orloff, The Age of the Fish, undated. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of Mr. Charles E. Schwartz 1947.62.

67. Lillian Orloff

Life Dates1898-1957
Place of BirthCleveland, OH, USA
Place of DeathCleveland, OH, USA
Birth NameLillian Orloff

Lillian Orloff was born on May 27, 1898 in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of seven children.1 Her parents, Sarah and Abraham Orloff, were immigrants from Russia who operated a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, where the family lived (it is not known why Lillian was born in Cleveland).2 In any case, Lillian and her mother returned to Cleveland between 1910 and 1920 after her father died and her mother remarried to Meyer Schwiff. Beginning in 1921, Orloff attended the Cleveland Law School, which ran night courses at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Cleveland under the aegis of Baldwin-Wallace College, and she completed her law degree in 1924. For the next several years, Orloff practiced law in Cleveland as an assistant police prosecutor, but gave up the profession by the end of the decade.3 In late October 1929, she embarked on a three-month trip to Europe with friend Virginia La Bette. Upon her return to the United States in January 1930, it appears Orloff remained in New York City, now determined to become an artist. She studied fairly continuously at the Art Students League between 1932 and 1944, taking classes with a variety of instructors including Kenneth Hayes Miller, William Zorach, Thomas Hart Benton, Vaclav Vytlacil, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and George Grosz, though Morris Kantor became her primary instructor by the late 1930s.4 Orloff also took advantage of the League’s printmaking program, consistently registering for courses with Harry Wickey, Harry Sternberg, and George Picken. Most importantly, her time at the League facilitated Orloff’s entrée into the circle of the Indian Space Painters, a group that originated at the school. The primary artists associated with Indian Space—Steve Wheeler, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell, and Will Barnet—sought to create an American-infused reaction to Europe’s modern art movements using “primitive” American Indian and pre-Columbian symbols.5 Orloff had her first duo show with Barrell in 1945 at Bertha Schaefer Gallery, and she also showed with the Indian Space group at Kenneth Beaudoin’s Gallery Neuf in a show called “Semeiology” (also known as “8 and a Totem Pole”) in the spring of 1946.6 Likely as a result of these shows, the Akron Art Institute acquired one of Orloff’s semi-abstract paintings, The Age of the Fish in 1947, and the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased another Wind Takes Rein in 1946.7 It is not known how or when Orloff came to Atelier 17, but she exhibited a relief etching called Bar Relief at the Laurel Gallery in 1949. This print and any others have not yet been located. The year before her death in 1957, Orloff had a solo show at Gallery Sixty-Two in New York and participated in two group shows at the Chase Gallery and The Collector’s Gallery, both based in New York. Orloff died on August 6, 1957 and is buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Selected Bibliography

“About Art and Artists.” New York Times, January 9, 1956.

Beaudoin, Kenneth. “Semeiology.” Inconograph, no. 1 (Spring 1946): 1–12.

Goodrich, John. “Sparkling in the Shadow of Ab-Ex.” Hyperallergic (blog), March 4, 2014.

Hollister, Barbara. “Indian Space: History and Iconography.” In The Indian Space Painters: Native American Sources for American Abstract Art, 31–33. New York: Baruch College Gallery, 1991.

Hollister, Barbara, and Sandra Kraskin. Indian Space: History and Iconography. New York: Baruch College Gallery, 1991.

“Kitten Mews, Finds Mamma.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 22, 1926.

“Municipal Judges.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 5, 1923.

“Oasis in North Atlantic: These Young Ladies Went to Europe.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 26, 1929.

Reed, Judith Kaye. “From Law to Art.” Art Digest 19 (May 15, 1945): 19.

Tucker, Peri. “Painting in Modern Style Is Presented to Institute.” The Akron Beacon Journal. July 6, 1947.

“Varied Shows on View at Local Galleries.” New York Times, May 2, 1956.


  1. Disambiguation: Lillian Orloff’s dates are commonly given as 1908-1957, which is incorrect. See, Peter Hastings Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985), 461. There was indeed another Lillian Orloff born in Ohio in 1908, but there is no indication that this Lillian was a practicing artist. A “Return of a Birth” record exists for a baby girl born May 24, 1898 to Sara and Abraham Orloff in Cleveland, Ohio. Many thanks to Kieth A. Peppers, Archivist & Historian at Baldwin Wallace University, for his tremendous help solving many mysteries surrounding Lillian Orloff. He pointed out the conflation between the two Lillian Orloffs living in Ohio and helped research her attendance records at Baldwin Wallace.
  2. Census records are helpful in documenting Orloff’s early family history: 1900: Buffalo Ward 8, Erie, New York; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0063; FHL microfilm: 1241026; 1910: Ripley, Chautauqua, New York; Roll: T624_930; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0184; FHL microfilm: 1374943; 1920: Cleveland Ward 15, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T625_1367; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 312; 1930: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Page: 26A; Enumeration District: 0498; FHL microfilm: 2341513.
  3. Kieth A. Peppers provided access to several articles in the local press: “Municipal Judges,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 5, 1923, 4; “Kitten Mews, Finds Mamma,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 22, 1926, 6; “Oasis in North Atlantic: These Young Ladies Went to Europe,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 26, 1929, 32.
  4. Student registration card, Art Students League of New York.
  5. For more about the Indian Space Painters, see Barbara Hollister and Sandra Kraskin, Indian Space: History and Iconography (New York: Baruch College Gallery, 1991); John Goodrich, “Sparkling in the Shadow of Ab-Ex,” Hyperallergic (blog), March 4, 2014.
  6. Judith Kaye Reed, “From Law to Art,” Art Digest 19 (May 15, 1945): 19; Kenneth Beaudoin, “Semeiology,” Inconograph, no. 1 (Spring 1946): 1–12.
  7. Notice of Orloff’s painting’s accession to the Akron Art Institute (now the Akron Art Museum) appeared in Peri Tucker, “Painting in Modern Style Is Presented to Institute,” The Akron Beacon Journal, July 6, 1947, 18. Both the Akron Art Museum and Cleveland Museum have small but helpful files about Orloff.