Museum  January 1, 2018  Rachel Ozerkevich

Thorough & Whimsical: Canada’s First Florine Stettheimer Retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art,

Florine Stettheimer, Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P. T. Barnum, 1924. Oil on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Ettie Stettheimer, 1947.242.

“Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry” is the first show of its kind in twenty years, and Stettheimer’s first ever retrospective in Canada. It offers unprecedented insight into the paintings, drawings, writings, and overall aesthetic of the twentieth century New York-based female artist. The exhibition makes up for lost time by comprehensively extending beyond the works on display to include poignant spatial design. In short, the exhibition is atmospheric. No sign of the era’s wartime strife or uncertainty makes its way into this space. Instead, one feels as if they are spending time in the artist’s private home, surrounded by her artistic influences and inspirations.

Courtesy the Florine Stettheimer papers, Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Florine Stettheimer in her Bryant Park garden, 1917-1920.

The show begins with Stettheimer’s early family portraits, dated from the 1890s. The paintings progress from somber and lifelike colors into more chaotic family tableaus, such as a large canvas from 1915, rendered in acrid chartreuse and fiery reds. In her 1933 “Family Portrait II,” ladies in 1930s upscale fashions lounge in a space marked by New York skyline motifs and oversized foliage. The majority of Stettheimer’s paintings in the early 1900s are almost Fauve-ish in their electric use of color. Floral motifs run from the corners into the center, turning fantastical in their scale and neon hues. These paintings showcase the artist playing with her era’s innovations in disorienting manipulations of spatial perspective, figural proportions, and overall breaks with verisimilitude.

Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Art.

 Florine Stettheimer, Portrait of Our Nurse, Margaret Burgess, 1929.

Subtler than the paintings themselves are the curators’ design of the gallery space. The walls are divided into horizontal bands of silvery pearl and pastel pink, with mirror-like pillars throughout the space. A crystal chandelier hangs in the middle of the gallery, and velour chaise lounges stud the room. The airy atmosphere is broken up by injections of hot bright hues and spindly human forms on the wall’s canvases. A central informational panel recounts the artist’s own Bryant Park apartment, filled with cellophane curtains, lace details, red carpet stairs, mirrored screens, and gilt flowers. All of these details are translated into the gallery space and are also reflected in the displayed works.

Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Florine Stettheimer, Spring Sale at Bendel's, 1944. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Ettie Stettheimer, 1951.

Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry” is on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto through January 28th, 2018.

About the Author

Rachel Ozerkevich

Rachel Ozerkevich holds a PhD in Art History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's an art historian, writer, educator, and researcher currently based in eastern Washington State. Her areas of expertise lie in early illustrated magazines, sports subjects, interdisciplinary arts practices, contemporary indigenous art, and European and Canadian modernism.

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