Sunday, August 20, 2017

Florine Stettheimer @ The Jewish Museum

Family Portrait I, 1915
"Stettheimer's singular paintings are among the most spellbinding and enduring in the history of art." - The New York Times
One of my first stops on a recent trip to New York City was the exhibition Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry. Staged by The Jewish Museum, it continues until September 24, 2017, when it travels to the Art Gallery of Ontario (October 21 - January 28). The show is an opportunity to get to know more about a little-appreciated artist, whose work is currently being reconsidered. I see more museum and gallery shows devoted to the work of women artists these days. I think that, in the past, Stettheimer has been dismissed as a dilettante, because of her gender and her privileged background.

Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918

Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944) was born to a prominent Jewish family in Rochester, NY. The father, a banker, deserted the family early on; the three youngest daughters never married, devoting themselves to each other and to their mother, and pursuing their artistic interests. Well-travelled, they counted among their circle Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe and Marcel Duchamp.

The show includes gorgeous, brightly-coloured canvases depicting the Jazz Age as lived by the Manhattan elite. I could see influences of other artists of the era in these paintings, among them Gauguin, Bonnard, Cezanne, and Chagall. The figures have the elongated, boneless fluidity of Art Deco fashion drawings.

A Model (Self-Portrait), 1915
scandalous in its time, referencing Manet's Olympia (1863)
and Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538)

Also on display are sketches for costume designs and small maquettes that Stettheimer made for theatrical productions.

The museum's website is so complete that it seems best to refer you directly to that resource, where you can find all the wall texts and audio descriptions that accompany the show, as well as installation photos and images of the various works on display.

I will end this entry with one of several poems by Stettheimer, posted on the exhibition walls. It seems to capture some of the artist's joie de vivre.

My Attitude is One of Love

is all adoration
for all the fringes
all the color
all tinsel creation

I like slippers gold
I like oysters cold
and my garden of mixed flowers
and the sky full of towers
and traffic in the streets
and Maillard's sweets
and Bendel's clothes
and Nat Lewis hose
and Tappé's window arrays
and crystal fixtures
and my pictures
and Walt Disney cartoons
and colored balloons

     - Florine Stettheimer

Did you like that one? Here's another:


A human being
Saw my light
Rushed in
Got singed
Got scared
Rushed out
Called fire
Or it happened
That he tried
To subdue it
Or it happened
He tried to extinguish it
Never did a friend
Enjoy it
The way it was
So I learned to
Turn it low
Turn it out
When I meet a stranger–
Out of courtesy
I turn on a soft
Pink light
Which is found modest
Even charming
It is a protection
Against wear
And tears
And when
I am rid of
The Always-to-be-Stranger
I turn on my light
And become myself

     - Florine Stettheimer


Miss Iowa said...

Thank you for the introduction to this artist. I loved the second poem, and sometimes feel like I have to use a soft pink light, too.

Heather Dubreuil said...

Marianne Williamson had some wise words on the subject.

In part, she wrote, "As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

The full quote can be found at
and I find it's worth re-reading from time to time.