Refined and witty, experimental and defiant, Florine Stettheimer is not a household name like her contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe, but she stands out as a unique figure in American art of the early 1900s. In her time she was acclaimed by artists, curators and critics, with Andy Warhol naming her his favourite artist.
Opening October 21, Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry marks the first major exhibition of Stettheimer’s work in Canada. It’s organized by the AGO and the Jewish Museum, New York.
Born into an affluent New York Jewish family, from a young age Stettheimer was drawn to the visual arts, theatre and poetry. She and her sisters hosted an influential salon in Jazz Age Manhattan, attracting an exclusive circle of radical artists and intellectuals. Her stunning paintings and her set and costume designs challenged New York’s artistic elite, fuelled the avant-garde styles of her time, and continue to influence contemporary artists today.
Stettheimer was incredibly close to her family and they frequently served as inspiration and subjects for her work. She frequently painted individual portraits of her two sisters – Caroline (Carrie) and Henrietta (Ettie) – as well as the family as a group, with their mother, Rosetta, and Florine herself. While the eldest Stettheimer sister married and moved away at a young age, Rosetta, Florine, Carrie and Ettie lived together for the rest of their lives.
Stettheimer often painted individual and group portraits of influential women in her life, not just her sisters and mother, but also her aunt Caroline Walter Neustadter (whose portrait she painted posthumously) and her childhood German art teacher Fräulein Sophie von Preiser.
At the time she was painting, the female point of view was rarely seen in art. Her focus on female subjects, combined with a traditionally feminine style of painting, helped pave the way for women in the modern art movement. Also noteworthy were her taboo-breaking self-portraits: her 1915 work A Model (Nude Self-Portrait) is widely identified as one of the earliest fully nude self-portraits by a female artist in the history of Western art. This provocative work was hung prominently in her studio, the figure gazing directly and confidently out at all viewers.
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