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Tulips Under a Canopy

Stettheimer, F.
Tulips Under a Canopy
signed with initials in monogram 'FS' (lower right)
oil on canvas
40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1925.
The artist.
Joseph Solomon, New York, gift from the above.
By descent to the late owner.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica, July 13-November 5, 1995, p. 139.
Further Details
This work will be included in Barbara Bloemink’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of works by Florine Stettheimer.

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Lot Essay

The Museum of Modern Art opened in its current building in New York in 1938 with an exhibition, Art in Our Time, representing “the best, most innovative and significant contemporary artists” including Matisse, Cézanne, Kandinsky, Eakins, Homer, Picasso, etc. The only women painters whose work was included were Florine Stettheimer, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mary Cassatt. When MoMA re-opened in 2019, it devoted an entire gallery to “Florine Stettheimer and friends,” again acknowledging her as one of the most innovative modernist artists in their collection. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol declared Stettheimer his “favorite artist—she is so great.” (W. Hill, How Folklore Shaped Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 132n43) A rare painting by Stettheimer remaining in private hands, Tulips Under a Canopy epitomizes the unique body of work that has garnered her acclaim for generations.

Stettheimer was the ultimate insider of the New York City art world. Along with her sisters, Carrie and Ettie, she hosted one of the most significant avant-garde Salons between the two World Wars that included artists, writers, musicians, actors, and influencers. Attendance included members of the Stieglitz Circle, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, as well as the Société Anonyme (of which she was a member), such as Francis Picabia, Albert Gleizes, Gaston Lachaise and her close friend Marcel Duchamp. She exhibited in over forty of the most important contemporary museum and gallery exhibitions including the first Whitney Biennial and the Salon d’Automne. In 1946, after her death, she was given the first full retrospective by a woman artist at MoMA, which was curated by Duchamp.

As Stettheimer scholar Barbara Bloemink notes, at her wish, the artist’s lawyer Joseph Solomon donated the majority of her paintings to American museums when she died, where today, they hang in permanent collections including MoMA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; and the Detroit Art Institute, Michigan. Examples of Stettheimer's flowers are in the collections of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; the Rhode Island Design Museum of Art, Providence, Rhode Island; Newark Museum, New Jersey; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, among others.

Defying her sister’s request, Ettie Stettheimer allowed several flower paintings to be sold at a special sale at the renowned Durlacher Brothers’ Gallery. Today, except for three or four genre paintings in private hands, these flower paintings are the only Stettheimer works that remain outside of museum collections. The present example, Tulips Under a Canopy, was a gift from the artist to Joseph Solomon and has descended in his family.

According to Bloemink, Tulips Under a Canopy, circa 1925, represents Stettheimer’s mature style of floral still lifes. In this work, Stettheimer creates a bouquet that is both whimsical and elegantly delicate. As is true of her most significant paintings, the composition is theatrical, implied by the canopy above. Each blossom has its own personality, its attenuated, graceful stem arching and swaying from the elegant, elongated vase against a characteristic all-over, subtly nuanced, white background.

Living and studying in Europe for the first forty years of her life, Stettheimer was aware of modern art movements prior to their appearing in the United States. Despite being independently wealthy, she resolved at an early age to concentrate on being a serious, professional artist. Influenced by Cubism and Matisse’s sensibilities, colors and techniques, she began painting floral still lifes in 1914. Stettheimer loved flowers. As her friend, the writer Carl van Vechten, reminisced: “Whenever I remember Florine I think about Portulaccca and zinnias, both of which appear in assorted colors; these were the flowers that she grew at various summer dwellings that she occupied with her family.” (as quoted in Florine Stettheimer, New York, 1963, p. xii) Disliking any fussy, traditional elements, when she picked flowers Stettheimer would immediately strip them of all extraneous leaves and then quickly capture the blossoms in brilliant, pure colors on her white canvases. An early multi-media artist, whose “Imagist” poetry is increasingly being celebrated, Stettheimer also wrote a number of poems about flowers that reflect her simple imagery and dry, witty humor.

When her family entertained, Stettheimer would create magnificent floral arrangements and purchased flowers daily from local florists. She painted these floral still lifes throughout her life—particularly on every birthday when she gathered and painted a fresh bouquet to celebrate the day. As Bloemink explains, she called her bouquets “eyegays,” a word she invented to emphasize that her flowers were not for the nose but for the eye—purely for contemplation. She disliked any indication of symbolism or metaphoric meaning attributed to flower paintings. Over time, her still lifes became increasingly spare and animated, simply varying the number of blossoms, the variety of vase and the types of flowers.

As her friend, the art critic Henry McBride described, “When she painted flowers she was never literal in her descriptions of them…They are, I believe, sufficiently botanical, but they are also unearthly.” Comparing them to Odilon Redon, he noted her flowers are “merely points of departure,” describing the blossoms as wiggling upward “with a whimsicality in the stems that is not to be unmatched for waywardness in the ‘automatic’ paintings of Miro.” (Florine Stettheimer, New York, 1946, pp. 15-17)

Many contemporary artists continue to cite Stettheimer as a direct influence on their work. For example, Cecily Brown has described of Stettheimer's work: "There was such a sense of fun in the paint, the image, the subject—which is something so unexpected and rare—I think I felt a kind of guilty pleasure at first. They were just so delicious to sink your eyes into, but they absolutely draw you across a room with that creamy froth, and they carry on giving when you get way up close." (as quoted in Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2017, p. 145)

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