Thursday, November 10, 2016

Florine Stettheimer: A Map of Public Collections Holding Her Work


Seeing a painting by Florine Stettheimer is a rare pleasure, in at least two distinct senses. First, she was one of the 20th century's true originals, an avowed modernist who created humorous, sensuous, action-packed, rococo scenes of life in the United States. Her works are rich with white and pinks, depictions of friends and family, in-jokes and art-historical allusions. There is no one else like her. But second, she was not particularly prolific, and rarely parted with her paintings. When she died, in 1944, at the age of 72, she still owned most of her works, and it was left to her sister Ettie Stettheimer to decide what to do with them.

Over the next 20 or so years, Ettie, and later, the family's attorney, Joseph Solomon, reportedly donated about 45 works to 37 institutions around the United States, and gave another 50 to Columbia University in New York. After that, they largely sat in storage. But thanks to pioneering writing by Linda Nochlin and Barbara Bloemink, and shows at the ICA Boston, the Katonah Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of Art, in the 1980s and '90s, museums owning Stettheimers began to display them more regularly. (Lenbachhaus in Munich also organized a remarkable show in 2014, and the Jewish Museum will stage another next year.)

Every time I visit new city, I try to see if a Stettheimer is nearby and pay it a visit while stopping by museums and galleries, but a few times I have had the painful experience of returning home and realizing that I had missed one. And so I have made a little map, embedded above, which shows where Stettheimers are located. It is not quite complete: I have worked off of checklists for various exhibitions featuring her work, but if you know of other places holding her work, please let me know. (A note: both Columbia and the Museum of Modern Art in New York own more pieces than I have added to the map, but I wanted to avoid crowding New York with dots, and it's worth noting that most of those works are rarely available to the public.)

A few Stettheimers are also in private hands, mostly her elegant and amusing paintings of flowers, but also New York/Liberty (1918), which has been on loan in recent years to the Whitney and, most notoriously, Asbury Park South (1920), which Fisk University sold off to help shore up its finances a few years back. Here's hoping that the collectors lucky enough to own a Stettheimer consider finding a nice, loving home for it in a public institution.

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