GLR September-October 2022

Florine remained the best collector of her work. I wish Bloemink had grappled more decisively with her feminist subject’s al most perverse tendency to undermine her own career. Stettheimer’s capacious talents—she

dotal activities downstage and centerstage, while the distant perspective might be de scribed as a lavishly decorated scrim. An other such “busy” scene is a testament to her friendship with the title’s subject, La Fête à Duchamp (1917), where horizontal

FLORINE STETTHEIMER A Biography by Barbara Bloemink Hirmer Publishers. 432 pages, $41.50

took enormous care with her home décor, frequently incorpo rated hand-crafted frames on individual paintings, and wrote poetry that was piquant, pithy, and capable of more than one mordant quip—were distilled by her Parisian encounter with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Evidence that she was no prudish old maid or lesbian is confirmed in several diary entries, in cluding her delight in Nijinsky’s shocking erotic performance in L’après midi d’un faune in 1912: “I saw something beautiful last evening ... Nijinsky the Faun was marvelous—he seemed to be true half beast if not two-thirds ... he was as graceful as a woman. ... He is the most wonderful male dancer I have seen.” In 1920, Stettheimer would place Nijinsky at the center of her painting Music , where, in a pose from another Ballets Russes offering, Le Spectre de la Rose , she “deliberately changed Nijinsky’s costume ... to create an implication of dis tinctly erotic bisexuality. ... Its strapless, heart-shaped bodice like front reveals the cleavage of a woman’s breasts.” The dancer, arms above his head, is positioned on the toes of his bal let shoes. At the time, Nijinsky was one of the few male ballet dancers able to dance en pointe . Stettheimer had obviously lost none of her enthusiasm for his indefinite gender qualities and By 1923, a city law “prohibited loitering for sodomy within city limits.” Despite this, the Stettheimers continued to allow their salon to be a refuge “for their many friends to be open about their sexual preferences.” As for the production of Le Spectre de la Rose , Stettheimer commented on how lucky its designer Leon Bakst was as a painter and designer to be “able to see his things executed.” She was so stagestruck that she spent several years writing the libretto and designing sets and costumes for an original ballet she hoped to see produced by the Ballets Russes. Bloemink concludes that, in Stettheimer’s drawing plans and three-di mensional “puppets” dressed as presentation models, the artist “developed the exact style, flattened manner, and active ges tural forms and implied movement that later formed the basis of her unique mature painting style.” This experience un doubtedly informed Stettheimer’s rich colorful costuming and striking cellophane backdrops for the 1934 Four Saints in Three Acts , seen by many as the crucial ingredient that held the entire production together. Her “mature” style was already forming in the 1910s, when Florine documented sometimes crowded scenes of activity in outdoor settings, as in Sunday Afternoon in the Country (1917) with its far-reaching view. Theatrical in composition, the scene shows tiny but identifiable figures engaging in various anec emphasized them, which Bloemink takes as a particularly “provocative act” for the pe riod. Within the year of Music ’s completion, Bloemink tells us that the NewYork Society for the Suppression of Vice encouraged po lice raids at the Everard Baths, a favorite of the city’s gay men, and there were “numer ous arrests and jail time for lewd behavior.”

bands of color distinguish present daytime action, a tea party on a sunlit yellow lawn, from the later nighttime birthday cele bration for Marcel on a purple-violet lantern-lit terrace across the top of the canvas. Here, as in other later paintings, Stet theimer presents a confluence of time sequences, what Duchamp himself termed her “ multiplication virtuelle ,” which tracked with the work of her favored writer, Marcel Proust, whose In Search of Lost Time takes the reader on a journey through a reawakened past. It is Stettheimer’s four-painting sequence The Cathedrals of New York that are generally considered the summit of her painterly achievement. Produced from 1929 to shortly before her death from cancer in 1944, this quartet documents the en ergetic New York of post-World War I: its popular movie and theater palaces amid gaudy advertising and street lights ( The Cathedrals of Broadway , 1929); an ostentatious society wed ding surrounded by ads for luxury purveyors of jewelry, bridal gowns, and chocolates, while the bride and groom at center present themselves to a fashionable public and a formal wed ding photographer ( The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue , 1931); the pomp and flag-waving pageantry of a patriotic celebration to Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art—shelter within their as signed alcoves near the impressive stairway whose steps are populated with a host of art-world luminaries ( The Cathedrals of Art , 1942–1944). The panoply of incidents in these canvases produces an array of figures disporting in movement or standing in solemn salute to the proceedings. Stettheimer’s figures are often rendered as slender and malleable as rubber; they recall some of her earli est group scenes where female or male figures appeared slim and slinky as salamanders. Even in her marvelous 1928 grisaille portrait of a standing Alfred Stieglitz, draped in his signature black cape, the imposing gallerist’s dark silhouette ends in tiny feet shod in black. Similarly, a 1922 seated portrait of Carl Van Vechten has the writer dramatically posed at odd angles in a dark suit; he is surrounded by a room carpeted red and full of objets and books. Arms and legs crisscrossed in an effete man ner, his red tie, and exposed violet socks, code Van Vechten’s homosexuality even as Stettheimer references his marriage to the actress Fania Marianoff. But the figure’s lean angular frame ending in small hands and tiny feet are a declaration of Stet theimer’s intentional turn from the realism of the academy to a vaguely Surrealist manner that, finally, is sui generis, like the entirety of her life and work. commemorate the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration amid the banking institutions of the Financial District and the U.S. Stock Exchange ( The Cathe drals of Wall Street , 1939); and a lavish columned interior with central carpeted staircase where the mandarins of the city’s competitive institutional art world—The

Stettheimer’s capacious talents were distilled by her Parisian encounter with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

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