Lily Spandorf, 85, an Austrian native whose paintings had chronicled the physical fabric of Washington since she quietly settled here in 1960, died Feb. 4 in Arlington Hospital after a heart attack. She had osteoporosis.
Miss Spandorf made her living as a "deadline artist," someone who conjures sketches and paintings for publications. She contributed work to illustrate breaking news stories and features about the city. A freelance artist, she did work over the years for The Washington Post, Washingtonian magazine, the National Geographic and, most often, for the old Washington Evening Star newspaper.
She also exhibited her work in Washington, New York and Europe. She had sketched and painted scenes of White House decorations since the Johnson administration. Presidents, looking over her shoulder as she sketched a scene for one publication or another, became admirers. More than one president took to passing out her watercolors as presents to visiting foreign dignitaries.
The U.S. Post Office once issued a stamp featuring her painting of the National Christmas Tree. Another measure of the esteem in which she was held came when a Senate committee ordered Delaware Avenue NE temporarily closed so she could paint in peace. In the late 1980s, the National Museum of Women in the Arts had a major exhibition of her work.
If Miss Spandorf had a specialty, it was making art out of the obvious. She lurked around the city's parks, markets, traffic circles and old buildings. She would suddenly perch her portable art kit and paint a memorable picture from something thousands had seen for years without thinking anything of it.
She called her work "on-the-spot" painting. Over the years, she captured hippies dancing, courtrooms emptying and children with Easter eggs on the White House lawn. She once told a Washington Post reporter, "A good painting is a poem in color."
To some, nothing was more poetic that her paintings of Washington's vanishing buildings. While the city was pulling itself ever higher in mountains of metal and glass, she composed haunting works of the old Washington buildings and neighborhoods that were destroyed in the process.
Her work on these subjects was collected in a 1988 coffee-table book, "Washington Never More." A film about her life and work was made by documentary filmmaker Barr Weissman.
Miss Spandorf, who never married, was an honors graduate of the Vienna Academy of Art. She left Austria in 1938 and settled in London, where she studied at St. Martin's School of Art. She also lived and worked in Italy before coming to this country in 1959.
She first lived in New York, where her impressionistic works of the day were a success. However, she later told a Post reporter that she found that city too vast and too hectic. She said she then came to Washington on a visit and fell in love with the city.
"It was spring, it was beautiful, and it wasn't so vast," she recalled.
Miss Spandorf met with artistic success here from the start. Soon, the lady with the portable studio who worked in quick-drying watercolors, gouache and ink became something of a Washington landmark herself.
She was a member of the National Press Club, the American Newswomen Club and the Society of Women Geographers.
She leaves no immediate survivors.
CAPTION: Lily Spandorf's watercolors showed Washington events and buildings.