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Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on October 25 2019

Florine Stettheimer was an American painter and designer. She was a cult figure. Because of her belief that her artwork was a personal pursuit she lived most of her life unknown as an artist. Along with her two sisters, she hosted a modernist salon in Manhattan. She showed most of her work at these gatherings. A book of her work was published posthumously by her sister.

 

Stettheimer was born in New York to wealthy German Jewish parents. Florine was the fourth of five children. Her father, a wealthy banker, left the family before the children were born. After the two oldest weere married, the three remaining girls lived close to their mother. Carrie, Florine and Ettie lived priveledged lives devoted to artistic pleasure and work.

 

From 1906 to 1914, the three sisters lived abroad and continued an education in the arts. They studied in Berlin, Stuttgart and Munich. Florine also studied at the Art Student's league af New York from 1892 to 1895.

 

Stettheimer only showed her work in non competitive private exhibits. She saw her wealth and priviledge as a birthright, not a thing to be put on display. She called it a buffer against the more unpleasant aspects of life. In her artwork, she depicted a life of leisurely activities. Her exhibited work included personal self portraits and group portraits with her family.

 

Stettheimer was forced back to New York from europe with her sisters by the War. They began entertaining the Avant Garde in their apartment and studio. The apartment featured a unique decorating style of cellophane curtains. This style was later represented in Stettheimer's design of an opera set.

 

Stettheimer's best known production was of 1934's "Four Saints in Three acts." This opera featured the performance of Gertrude Stein. Also featured were the cellophane curtains with which Florine loved to decorate. She also composed a ballet inspired by a French annual ball.

 

Her artwork shakes up the normal order of modernism, when it is displayed every twenty years or so. Her use of eccentric caricature and unexpected hues impresses critics to this day. She did most of her work in the interwar years, giving modernism her own interpretation.

 

Florine helped her sister Carrie to create the "Stettheimer Dollhouse." This house depicts the upper class residence of her day. It is full of works by their artist friends. many of her male artist friends also became subjects, while the females were mostly family. She used people of color in her paintings, as weell as the stage productions.

 

Stettheimer often wrote poems on scraps of paper in the style of Emily Dickinson. She would send these to friends rather than publishing them. her poems range from satire to witty social critiques. These were posthumously assembled in "Crystal Flowers." The book was published by her sister Ettie in 1949, and again in 2010.

 

Stettheimer had a distinctive esthetic and personal focus as a modernist. Her upper class Jewish German family background made her different from mainstream modernists. As a result she was considered an outsider and a cult figure. There was an unashamed domestic feminine aspect to her work. Her set designs are included in her work. These are quite popular.

 

The artifice she used made the viewer acutely aware of her perspective. It took six years for Stettheimier's vision to fully appear on canvas. She finally made her mark on art history, and her vision is still inspiring today. She died of cancer in 1944.

She wished her artwork destroyed after her death, but her sister defied her wish.

Stettheimer's Debut as an artist came at the Museum of Modern Art. This first gallery exhibit was in 1946, two years after her death. Her works are shown around New York, often by the Jewish Women's museum.

View Florine Stettheimer Gallery