Florine Stettheimer’s paintings take contemplation, repeated viewing, and, often, an understanding of the context in which they were painted to be fully understood. At a moment defined by a president prone to bombastic outbursts, incomplete sentences, and the promulgation of “alternative facts,” Florine Stettheimer’s paintings offer a newly relevant, alternative, and open-minded point of view toward many of the same issues that fill the political landscape right now. All the details in her works are based on in-depth research and factual imagery. And she achieved this in her idiosyncratic, lighthearted, consciously feminine style—a mode our current president would hate. There are few artists I can imagine more effectively mocking Trump in a visible way than Florine Stettheimer. To be sure, she would probably paint him while wearing one of her black pantsuits.

Barbara Bloemink’s biography and catalogue raisonné on Florine Stettheimer will be published in 2018. An art historian with a Ph.D. from Yale, Bloemink was previously the director of five art museums, including the Guggenheim-Hermitage and the Smithsonian National Design Museum, and has organized over 70 museum exhibitions on contemporary and modern art and design.

1 Linda Nochlin, “Florine Stettheimer: Rococo Subversive,” in Barbara J. Bloemink and Elisabeth Sussman, Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 102.

2 A small sampling of the “woman-oriented” productions seen during just two years by the Stettheimers includes:

London, 1907:

  • The Girls of Gottenberg
  • Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance

Berlin, 1907:

  • Richard Strauss’s Salome, 1907 (or 1909). Stettheimer describes seeing the performance in her diary of 1907, but histories of the performance date it 1909; and Stettheimer was not always conscientious about accuracy in dating her entries.)
  • Ethel Barrymore in a play
  • Patrick Campbell as Electra
  • Vera Komissarzhevskaya in A Doll’s House
  • Hedda Gabler (in German in German Theater)
  • Lillian Russel in “racing comedy” Wildfire
  • Isadora Duncan and Walter Damrosch at Metropolitan Opera with New York Symphony Orchestra.

New York, 1909:

  • Ethel Barrymore in Lady Frederick
  • Fiske in Salvation Nell
  • Annie Russell in The Stronger Sex
  • Maxine Elliott in The Chaperone
  • Eleanor Robson in The Dawn of Tomorrow
  • Anna Held in Miss Innocence
  • Julia Marlowe in The Goddess of Reason
  • Fannie Ward in The New Lady Bantock
  • Kathryn Kidder in A Woman of Impulse
  • Marie Doro in The Richest Girl
  • Blanche Bates in The Fighting Hope
  • Margaret Anglin in The Awakening of Helena Richie

3 Richard Strauss created the opera on the theme of Salome in 1905 including the Dance of the Seven Veils with Salome shedding her veils until she is ultimately virtually nude. (Although popular in Europe, the subject was banned in England when it was adapted by Oscar Wilde in a play published in 1893 with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.) When Ida Rubinstein appeared in Strauss’s role in 1908 and 1909 in Paris she precipitated an anti-Semitic, misogynistic backlash. Her performance was applauded by Jean Cocteau and she later became affiliated with the Parisian lesbian milieu. Marcus, Jane. “Salome: The Jewish Princess was a New Woman,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 1974, p. 100, n. 24.

4 Wanda Corn, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern (Brooklyn Museum/Delmonico Books, 2017). This exhibition was groundbreaking in presenting O’Keeffe’s carefully controlled apparel and image through photography, her clothing, and accessories, as well as her paintings, for the first time.

5 Quoted in Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life (Ballantine Books, 1988), 55.

6 I have identified most of the buildings in this painting that were all built prior to Stettheimer’s 1919 painting of it. For further information please refer to my upcoming biography and catalogue raisonné of Stettheimer, due in early 2018.

7 Matthew Lonrden, “Review of the Society of Independent Artists,” in The World Magazine, March 20, 1920.

8 Florine Stettheimer, Crystal Flowers: Poems and a Libretto, ed. Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo (BookThug, 2010), 79.

9 The German artist Paula Modersohn-Becker is believed to be the first woman to paint a nude self-portrait. However, her two little-known works, the full-nude Self Portrait as a Standing Nude and the sketchy study Self-Portrait as Standing Nude with Hat, both appear in traditional, male-oriented “presentation” poses, without the overtly feminist female gaze of Stettheimer’s self-portrait. To date, no other nude self-portraits painted by women have been identified between Modersohn-Becker’s two undated nude studies of 1906 and Stettheimer’s Nude Self-Portrait, ca. 1916.

10 In his biography Florine Stettheimer: A Life in Art (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux [1963]), Parker Tyler does not recognize that it is a self-portrait but refers to the painting as “A Model, circa 1915–16, a recumbent nude with bluish flesh-shading” and notes that the nasturtium red color of the hair is the same color the artist gave herself in the painting Self-Portrait with a Faun/Palette done at the same time. It is amazing that he did not also notice the close similarity of facial features in the two works. The Nude Self-Portrait, titled simply A Nude, was among a large group of paintings Ettie Stettheimer and lawyer Joseph Solomon gave to Columbia University, where they resided in the basement of the Art Properties department. When I was researching my Ph.D. dissertation on Stettheimer (The Life and Art of Florine Stettheimer, Yale University Press, 1995), I identified both the Self-Portrait with Chinese Screenand this Nude Self-Portrait as images of the artist herself because of the identical manner in which she painted her facial features in every previous and subsequent self-portrait, as well as by comparing the painted versions of the few available photographs of her. In the latter, as in every painting, she featured her rounded forehead and pointed chin, large almond eyes with dark crescent brows, long nose, and full lower lip. Although her hairstyle varied between dark full bangs and an open forehead with a central part, it was always in a stylish ear-length bob, and the color dark to nasturtium red. In another passage, discussing Stettheimer’s painting Soirée, Tyler described the Nude Self-Portrait incorrectly, stating, “she placed her nude (titled A Model, and a figure evidently too large for her to handle easily) at the back to contrast with the—to us—invisible canvas opposite; the nude, doubtless, had had its ideal moment, in which Florine had put much that was climactic (all her “student” fervor) but this moment was already past: the artist had come upon her new manner, her new ideal…” (Tyler, Life in Art, p. 110) still not recognizing either the self-portrait or the ironic intention of placing it on the wall as the theme of the painting.

11 Stettheimer’s Nude Self-Portrait measures 47 by 67 inches, Titian’s Venus of Urbino measures 47 by 65 inches, Francisco Goya’s Nude Maja measures 38 by 74 inches, and Edouard Manet’s Olympia measures 51 by 75 inches. Roberto C. Ferrari, curator of the Columbia University works of art collections that include Stettheimer’s Nude Self-Portrait, has written that under ultraviolet light one can see that the artist “overpainted the attenuated legs, which bear a striking resemblance to those of Ingres’s odalisque” [Grande Odalisque, 1814]. This then is another Old Master painting of a nude by a male artist that demonstrates Stettheimer’s wide knowledge of Western art history.

12 Stettheimer, Crystal Flowers, 60.

13 Ibid., 44.

14 Nochlin, Art in America, Rococo Subversive, 73.

15 Eksteins, Modris, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, Houghton Mifflin, 1989, pp. 266-70.

16 In the minds of a few forward-thinking people, the view that homosexuality and untraditional gender roles was a form of insanity was slowly changing, based on the spread of Freud’s theory that all humans were born with a bisexual disposition, and represented an arresting of sexual development.

17 There is some confusion as to the dating of this work. According to a loose paper in the Stettheimer archives at Columbia University, Carl Van Vechten believed it to have been painted between 1925 and 1930, and not in 1920, as indicated in the poster of Caruso on the left side of the composition. The poster, he suggested, was an old one that had remained on the reviewing stand for several years. Van Vechten himself was at work on Nigger Heaven in 1924–26, and that obviously added to his belief in a later date. There are, however, several exhibition reviews that discuss the painting in 1921, indicating 1920 is correct.

18 Victoria Wolcott, Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), p. 24.

19 “Answering Mr. Bradley: Colored People at Asbury Park Speak Out at Meeting,” New York Times, June 28, 1887.

20 Gaston Lachaise to Stettheimer, March 23, 1921, Stettheimer Papers, Beineke Library, Yale University.

21 Although they were both fully aware of Stettheimer’s Asbury Park South painting of 1920, in a book on the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias’s Negro Drawings (introduction by Frank Crowninshield; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), Crowninshield mistakenly claimed that Covarrubias was “the first important artist in America . . . to bestow upon our Negro anything like the reverent attention . . . which Gauguin bestowed upon the natives of the South Seas.” This was seven years after Asbury Park South was painted and exhibited by Stettheimer, and in many ways Covarrubias’s drawings are still caricatures. There were several very fine African-American artists who painted scenes of everyday life of African-Americans within their own context during the 1920s. These include Archibald Motley Jr., Winold Reiss, and Aaron Douglas, among others, however they did not have the opportunity to exhibit their work in the kind of significant venues and museums as white artists such as Stettheimer.

22 Stettheimer was by no means the only one obsessed with images of Washington. The first president’s picture was often reproduced, and his life was the subject of articles in popular magazines throughout the period between the world wars. In 1919 Vanity Fair ran an article describing a newly found diary of Washington covering the period 1782–83, when he was in France. Gilbert Stuart’s image of Washington graced the cover of the magazine in March 1932, with superimposed images of gangsters.

23 The facial expression indicates Stettheimer copied a contemporary black-and-white state photograph of the president that was popular at the time in which he similarly faces forward.

24 Bell, Elliott, “What is Wall Street, The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 2, 1938.

25 “North Atlantic Folk and Racial Discourse” in Donna M. Cassidy, Marsden Hartley: Race, Region, and Nation (New Hampshire Press, 2005), 263.

26 I am very grateful to Barbara Haskell for providing me this information.