William J. L’Engle, Jr., was born in Jacksonville, Florida on April 22, 1884. Bill attended Yale University and graduated in 1906 with a degree in naval architecture and was noted among his classmates for his skill as a draughtsman. He then sought further artistic training in Paris. There, he spent 5 years studying at The Academie Julian with Richard E. Miller (1875-1943) and at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Jean Paul Laurens (1838-1924), and Louis Francois Biloul (1874-1947). In 1910, accompanied by friends and fellow artists Waldo Pierce (1884-1970), and George Biddle, (1885-1973), Bill travelled to Madrid, Spain. The young artists studied there and spent time at the Prado Museum copying paintings by the Spanish artist, Diego Velázquez. In 1914, William met the artist Lucy Stelle Brown, who had recently arrived in Paris at the Academie Julian. Soon thereafter, they were engaged and married.
William frequently took his subjects from the world of entertainment: dancers, acrobats, trapeze artists, wrestlers, and baseball players appear repeatedly in his work. He was greatly interested in the body in motion and in representing it solely by means of line. Dancers were a recurrent theme in the L’Engles’ art during the Twenties and Thirties. William completed a large amount of drawings of the members of Martha Graham’s dance troupe and created a large number of watercolors and pencil drawings that captured the life and spirit of the Jazz Age, which emerged after the First World War and found its zenith in the Harlem nightclubs of New York City. Although exhibiting frequently at New York City galleries in the 1920s and 1930s, William is most closely associated with the modernist faction of the Provincetown Art Association, which included progressive artists such as BJO Nordfelt, Karl Knaths, Gerrit Beneker, Blanche Lazzell, and Agnes Weinrich.
In New York City throughout the 20s and 30s, he exhibited at galleries such as The Montross Gallery, Georgette Passedoit Gallery, Kingore Gallery, and Bodley Gallery and was invited to exhibit his Cement Workers in the 1939 World’s Fair Exhibition. Bill painted numerous abstract weather maps based upon The New York Times daily national weather map forecasts. He abstracted them and gave them a lyrical, musical quality; as seen in the isobars, which look like musical notes. And, finally, toward the very end of Bill’s career and life he returned to figurative painting. After Bill’s death, Lucy donated a large number of William’s watercolors and pencil drawings from the 1930s of the Martha Graham Dance Troupe and Harlem nightclub scenes to the Lincoln Center Dance Collection, Museum of the City of New York, Cooper Hewitt Museum and the Staten Island Museum.