As a Southern female satirist, Caroline Spellman Wogan Durieux was a rare phenomenon in the early twentieth century. Today, she is highly regarded for her stinging lithographs that touch on human foibles as well as some of the important issues of her day. Born to a family of Creole descent in New Orleans, young Caroline was precocious; she began drawing at age four and completed a portfolio of watercolors depicting her city by the time she was twelve. She took lessons from Mary Butler, a member of the art faculty at Sophie Newcomb College, and, beginning in 1912, matriculated at the school full-time, where her instructors included Ellsworth Woodward, chair of the art department. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in design in 1916 and one in education in 1917. Awarded a scholarship by the New Orleans Art Association, Durieux pursued further coursework at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1918 to 1920. Years later, she was encouraged to try lithography by Carl Zigrosser, an expert curator of prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who became her mentor.

With her husband Pierre Durieux—an importer of Latin American goods and later the chief representative of General Motors for South America—Caroline Durieux spent time in Cuba during the early 1920s. The couple moved in 1926 to Mexico City, where she met the great muralist Diego Rivera and became involved in the local art community. Following a short interval in New York City, Durieux went back to Mexico in 1931 and enrolled at the Academy of San Carlos (now the National University of Mexico) to study lithography. She returned to New Orleans seven years later and was hired to teach at her alma mater, Newcomb College, from 1938 to 1943. Starting in 1939, Durieux served as the director of Louisiana’s Works Progress Administration program, and her division was the only one in the state not to practice racial discrimination. This was a matter she felt strongly about, stating: “I had a feeling that an artist is an artist and it doesn’t make any difference what color he or she is.” From 1943 until her retirement in 1964, Durieux was a member of the faculty at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Durieux’s forte was lithography, a technique popular in the mid-nineteenth century and long associated with social commentary, and her prints proved no exception. Her work in the 1930s and 1940s coincided with a rise in art that dealt with poverty, racism, and totalitarianism. She often presented stereotyped social climbers as her subjects, depicting these figures—mostly women—with exaggerated facial expressions, hairdos, and clothing. Even though the images are biting, they are generally tinged with humor. Upon occasion, Durieux took on larger issues, such as discrimination.

Lithography provided Durieux with a good deal of technical freedom, because she was basically drawing with a special grease pencil. When she tried her hand at etching in the early 1930s, she disliked it, commenting: “All my etchings are harrowing. I think it is because the medium is such a precarious one—the least slip and all is lost. I can’t be funny on a copper plate.” However, she was not loath to attempt new methods; late in her career, she experimented with cliché verre, a mode that melds drawing with photography. She also investigated electron printmaking using radioactive ink.

Caroline Durieux’s work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery, and the Louisiana State University Museum, among others.