Identified as both a primitive and a modernist, Florine Stettheimer created a personal art that reflected her eccentric, bohemian life. She was one of three daughters of a wealthy, immigrant German-Jewish banker. During the 1890s Florine studied at the Art Students League with J. Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917) and Kenyon Cox (1856-1919). She and her mother traveled extensively on the Continent and during the first decade of this century spent long periods in Berlin, Munich, and Stuttgart, where she encountered symbolist painting. The family settled in the United States just before the outbreak of World War I. Her sister Ettie became a novelist, and her sister Carrie devoted her life to creating a magnificent doll house.
Upon moving to New York, Florine immersed herself in art circles and with her mother and sisters held a salon that attracted the most gifted of the avant-garde. Among the salon visitors who became their friends were Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), GASTON LACHAISE, WILLIAM ZORACH, and Carl Van Vechten. Florine lived with her sisters until the death of her mother in 1935 and then established her own studio apartment, decorating it in a somewhat eccentric, rococo style, which paralleled her exceedingly feminine paintings. She painted portraits of her family and close friends, which were sometimes satiric, and floral still lifes presented in a seemingly naïve style with bright colors and arcane symbols. From 1929 until her death in 1944 she worked on an ambitious series on American urban life, the narrative scenes and complex symbolism of which reveal her to have been much more socially aware than she is usually credited to have been. She designed the sets and costumes for a 1934 production of Four Saints in Three Acts, a play by Gertrude Stein with a score by Virgil Thomson.
Stettheimer’s first exhibition was held at M. Knoedler & Co. in New York in 1916, and thereafter she participated at the annuals of the Society of Independent Artists until 1926. Her poems were published posthumously as Crystal Flowers (1949).
New Haven, Conn., Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Florine Stettheimer Papers § New York, Museum of Modern Art, Florine Stettheimer, exh. cat., 1946, by Henry McBride, with bibliography § Parker Tyler, Florine Stettheimer: A Life in Art (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1963) § Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, and others, Florine Stettheimer: Still Lifes, Portraits, and Pageants, 1910 to 1942, exh. cat., 1980, with essay by Elisabeth Sussman, chronology by Robert McDaniel, catalogue and bibliography by Lamia Doumato § Linda Nochlin, "Florine Stettheimer: Rococo Subversive," Art in America 68 (September 1980): 64-83.