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Wednesday, May 15 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Paintings) An Investigation into Florine Stettheimer's Materials and Techniques

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Florine Stettheimer’s (1871-1944) paintings are iconic of the American Jazz age. Born into an affluent German-Jewish family in Rochester, New York, she led an international life, moving and traveling between Europe and New York. She trained in drawing in Stuttgart and Berlin, and studied painting at the Arts Student League in New York City. At the outbreak of WWI her family settled permanently in Manhattan, where she initiated and hosted one of the most erudite cultural salons in the early twentieth-century. Her studio brought together distinguished figures of Modernism, namely Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Marcel Duchamp. Such visitors to her salon regularly found themselves depicted in her canvases, posing affectedly in her lavish home or fluttering around fantasy spaces and locations associated with her socioeconomic class, like Asbury Park, Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany’s. Following her death, her family gifted most of her paintings to institutions throughout the United States. The materials and methods Stettheimer chose when making her canvases have never been studied. This presentation will discuss a comprehensive technical examination of four of her paintings: the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Spring Sale at Bendel’s (1921), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art’s Picnic at Bedford Hills (1918), the Boston Athenaeum’s The White Curtains (1915-16), and MFA Boston’s Lake Placid (1919). Her flattened perspectival spaces, containing lightly abstracted imagery, are rendered in a flamboyant palette of paints applied with almost gratuitous texture. Her style is often described as whimsical, feminine, and pseudo-primitive, but she remains challenging to categorize within the predominant movements of the modern period, such as Cubism, Fauvism, and Surrealism. Critical interpretations of Stettheimer’s work have been highly varied and capricious. For instance, between the 1970s and the 2000s, she was called a feminist, a ‘camp’ goddess, a deft satirist, and a New York Dadaist. Despite the frequent art historical interrogations into her work – nearly all focused on her personal life and imagery – her innovations in painting went unexamined. These paintings were studied via visual examination, imaging and analytical techniques: X-ray fluorescence, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet light, X-ray radiography, optical microscopy, Fourier-transform infrared micro-spectroscopy, and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The artist applied her heavy bodied paints primarily with palette knives, sometimes directly onto unprepared canvases, and frequently scraped paint away using a sgrafitto-like method. She embellished her imagery with transparent glazes and thin black lines applied with fine brushes. Stettheimer’s consistent palette and specific techniques are observed throughout her work, as are an idiosyncratic assortment of serious condition issues. The most recognizable of these are: steeply raised stress-cracking networks, greying edges of paint strokes, pigment deterioration, waxy exudates, and water sensitivity of paint layers, listed as oil-based. Stettheimer was pioneering in combining her vivid palette and sculpted surfaces, with mismatched proportions and perspectives, to depict her subjects with humor. Focused consideration of these qualities and evidence gathered to date from this foundational study provide new insight into Stettheimer’s aesthetic and conceptual achievements.

avatar for Fiona Rutka

Fiona Rutka

Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paintings Conservation, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Fiona Rutka is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in paintings conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her work is focused on the modern and contemporary collection. Following her graduation from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2013, she held post graduate internships at the Victoria... Read More →


Cathleen Duffy

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Scientist/Researcher
Kate Duffy is a scientist in the conservation department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She received a degree in chemistry from Hood College, Frederick, MD, and recently completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham, UK, on the application of metabolomics to the study of archaeological... Read More →

Wednesday May 15, 2019 3:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Salon B2, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Paintings
  • Track Paintings
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Fiona Rutka, Dr. Kate Duffy
  • Abstract ID 18724
  • Tags Florine Stettheimer,modern,Modernism,painting,palette knife