These two are in my top ten favorites of Florine's. I read a lot of these biographies and art books and I usually kind of skim the interpretations of the art and focus mostly on biography/timeline etc. On one hand, I think everyone should get to have their own interpretation but on the other hand, I want to make informed interpretations. This was one of those rare times when my reaction to the piece pretty well matched my study.
I found it striking how similar these Cathedral series paintings are to the photos of her set designs for Four Saints and Three Acts. Though her style and colors are dreamy and lighthearted, she hints of deeper meanings in her work like consumerism, greed, the relationship between big business and politics, etc. These were painted just after the stock market crash, during the Great Depression, and the beginning of WW2.
Florine didn’t really care to have her photo taken. There are very few photographs of her (I’ve found two) but she did paint herself into many group portraits and a few self-portraits. I think about how I (and many others do too) have trouble stating that I’m an artist; there’s that imposter syndrome feeling because I don’t fully support myself as an artist. But Florine clearly identified as an artist. In both paintings, she has palette in hand and looks directly at the viewer with confidence.
Marcel Duchamp was a good friend to the Stettheimer sisters. He encouraged Florine to show her work and it was he who organized a retrospective of her work two years after her death. In researching him, I learned that he had an alter ego Rrose Sélavy and so I made the portrait at the top of this post of him dressed as Rrose. There’s several photos of Rrose taken by Man Ray and some of Duchamp’s art is signed Rrose Sélavy.
I just thought it was interesting to put all these portraits together and look them over as a series. I think I often get it in my head that I have to paint something completely new each time but there’s nothing wrong with finding something that works for you and then doing it again with little changes that keep it interesting.
Florine designed all the frames for her paintings and then had them made.
Florine Stettheimer died of cancer on May 11, 1944 at the age of 72. In her will, she asked that all her work be destroyed upon her death. But her sister Ettie ignored her instructions and began placing her work in major public collections. In 1946 Marcel Duchamp helped organize Florine’s first ever museum show at MoMA. And in 1949, Ettie published Crystal Flowers, a book of Florine’s poetry.