Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Florine Stettheimer ~ Contemporary of Duchamp, O'Keeffe and Stein

Those brown eyes of Marcel Duchamp will pierce right through you and find your true identity, resistance is futile. Florine Stettheimer may not have met with financial rewards from her artistic work during her lifetime but artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Charles Demuth all thought highly of her work. And Gertrude Stein benefitted from the success of Virgil Thomson's production of Four Saints and Three Acts based on Stein's libretto. Key to that success was Stettheimer unique set design.

Duchamp spent considerable time with Florine and her two sisters attending their Salon and giving them French lessons when he first arrived in America during World War I. The sharing of ideas during those years of friendship makes it easy to understand his affinity for Florine's symbol filled paintings such as the Cathedral series and her many portraits. Duchamp organized the 1946 retrospective of Stettheimer's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe also gathered at the Stettheimer apartment. “She put into visible form in her own way, something that they all were, a way of life that is going and cannot happen again, something that has been alive in our city.” In 1938, Stettheimer and O'Keefe were the only women artists whose work was included in the exhibition of American art organized by the Museum of Modern Art to travel to the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris. Stettheimer portrayal of Stieglitz has O'Keeffe appearing out of the background. It hangs in Nashville so if you're ever there you'll be able to see it in all of the glory of Stettheimer's color palette.

Stettheimer received much critical acclaim in 1934 for her work as set designer on Virgil Thomson's opera of Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts. Stettheimer utilized cellophane extensively in the scenery and costume design. Unlike most designers, Stettheimer created little figures to show how the costumes should be designed. This little maquette reflects the all black cast Thomson used to portray the European saints. It was after the success of Four Saints that Gertrude Stein returned to America for her lecture tour. Thomson's opera with Stettheimer's sets played a major role in Stein's level of celebrity.

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