IotD: America Through the Eyes of Florine Stettheimer

There seems no better way to mark the Fourth of July weekend than to consider Florine Stettheimer’s Cathedral series, her four large paintings that Linda Nochlin describes as “grand, secular shrines dedicated to the celebration of American life” (107). All four of the paintings, The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944), are currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

As seen in the photo below, the Met displays the paintings together on a single wall, creating a lively, prismatic-like panorama of New York City life in the first decades of the twentieth century. The close proximity also draws attention, I imagine, to Stettheimer’s wry sense of humor and incredible attention to detail, which at once seems whimsical and precise. Nochlin considers the Cathedrals as being “perhaps the most consistent and ambitious expressions of Stettheimer’s social consciousness,” and the paintings certainly exude an exuberant, celebratory tone. But at the same time, “beneath the glowing admiration for American institutions and personae in this work… exists a pointed and knowing critique of them as well” (107, 113).

While the nature of this critiques isn’t always immediately accessible to a contemporary viewer, Stettheimer embedded within all paintings individuals and incidents that would have been recognizable to the New York artistic and cultural communities, of which she and her mothers and two sisters were considered to be major figures due to the fashionable salons they hosted. Marcel Duchamp in particular was a close friend of both the family and Stettheimer herself, and while I would never go so far to call her own style “surrealistic,” she certainly possesses a sly sense of humor and capturing a sense of absurdity in these paintings and throughout her entire body of work–qualities which I think allow her to capture a glimpse into American society and culture that, many decades after they were painted, continues to resonate with my own perspective of this country.

florine stettheimer cathedrals of broadway

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of fifth avenue

The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of wall street

The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of art

The Cathedrals of Art (1944)

WORKS CITED

Nochlin, Linda. “Florine Stettheimer: Rococo Subversive.” 1980. Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica. Ed. Elisabeth Sussman and Barbara J. Bloemink. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

PROVENANCE

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Full size images via Art Spheric

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IotD: Soirée by Florine Stettheimer

fssoiree

Before I get too far along, I thought I should specify the painting that serves as the main avatar for this blog: Florine Stettheimer’s Soirée (1917-19), also sometimes known as Studio Party. I’ve long been entranced by Stetteimer’s witty and whimsical sensibility, and when it came to select an image that would best encapsulate the intentions of this blog, her paintings seemed a somewhat inevitable choice. I’m consistently dazzled with how she utilizes minute but sharply observed details to embed narratives within her images, and she’s at her best when depicting groups of individuals interacting with each other within a specific space. A number of her paintings capture this dynamic, but Soirée is my very favorite of them all.

Florine Stettheimer c. 1917-20

Florine Stettheimer c. 1917-20

“Queer modernism” is a necessarily ambiguous term that defies precise definition or categorization, but the overriding dynamic I constantly return to is the emphasis on connection and collaboration. The individuals I generally consider “queer modernists” seemed to actively and intentionally construct extensive relational networks (both professional and often personal in nature), and what is consistently thrilling about studying these figures is how they all seemed to know each other in some way. Queers often served as the key conduits for the promotion of modernist art, and many (most?) of the great, storied salons of the modernist era were held by figures that were queer: Stein and Toklas at 27 rue de Fleurus, Natalie Barney’s Académie des femmes, Carl Van Vechten’s racially desegregated house parties, etc, etc–and while the salon of the three Stettheimer Sisters, the subject of this particular painting, is not as well known today as those three gatherings, it functioned as a vital site of queer modernist expression as well.

I have a number of Stettheimer-related images and material lined up for future “Image of the Day” and other types of posts, but until then the excellent art-oriented blog Venetian Red has a wonderful post on Stettheimer that serves as a nice overview or introduction to the artist, and features a number of high-quality images of her paintings, something which is absolutely essentially to fully appreciate their intricacies and keen visual wit.

Provenance

Soirée (1917-19)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Joseph Solomon from the estate of Florine Stettheimer

Info Source: Yale Digital Content; Image Source: Venetian Red