Zinnias

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Zinnias

United States, circa 1920s
Paintings
Oil on canvas
32 5/16 x 48 1/4 in. (82.07 x 122.56 cm)
Gift of the Estate of Ettie Stettheimer (60.31)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Stettheimer painted flowers throughout her life, incorporating them into her figurative compositions or using them as the focal point of her still-life paintings. ...
Stettheimer painted flowers throughout her life, incorporating them into her figurative compositions or using them as the focal point of her still-life paintings. Zinnias exhibits all the typical elements of a mature Stettheimer still life. A bouquet of flowers is placed beneath a festoon on a table in the center of the composition. In the 1920s Stettheimer became fascinated with the design theories of Adolfo Best-Maugard (1891-1964), whose principles of composition were based on simplicity and conventionalized, childlike images. Stettheimer’s repeated use of a frontal view of a vase of flowers and drapery swag may have been related to Best-Maugard’s emphasis on such motifs. Stettheimer painted the vase, background, and festoon in white with tints of pink and gray underpaint. White was her color, for she not only used it extensively in her painting as a color and to key up her palette, she also surrounded herself with white, often wearing a fringed white dress and decorating her studio in white lace and fringed drapery. The garland draped above the vase in the museum’s painting alludes to her canopied bed. The vase of flowers appears to exist in a sheltered, private niche, safe from the outside world, just as Stettheimer lived in an exclusive, refined world that she created. Even the thickly impastoed surface, characteristic of Stettheimer’s mature art, suggests the pure sensuosity of her maidenly, but artistically rich, life.
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About The Era

The beginning of every century inspires a general sentiment of endless possibilities, and the twentieth century was no exception....
The beginning of every century inspires a general sentiment of endless possibilities, and the twentieth century was no exception. A modern age marked by technological wonders had begun, and the United States was to be its focal point. Lewis Mumford, one of the country’s most brilliant thinkers, explained that, unlike Europe, “the New World expanded the human imagination.” Young American students still traveled to Europe, especially Paris, for their initiation to art, but the progressive new ideas of cubism, futurism, and surrealism that they imbibed only found their true home in the United States.
As demonstrated by the first generation of modernists in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz, American artists rarely abandoned referential ties to the physical world completely. The simplification of form, multiple perspectives, and ideas about the fourth dimension that radical proponents of cubism espoused would find their most compelling American expressions in the fishermen of Marsden Hartley, and the animal bones and skulls of Georgia O’Keeffe. To these artists, abstraction meant the synthesis of personal experience.
The introduction of psychological ideas, first in the form of Sigmund Freud’s discussion of the unconscious and later in the writings and art of the surrealists, found an enthusiastic audience in America. Such new concepts not only expanded ideas about the human mind but also encouraged the liberation of social conduct, in particular, sexual mores. Women increasingly became involved in creative aspects of the new modern age. In 1934 the Los Angeles artists Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson issued the only surrealist manifesto to appear in the United States, thereby demonstrating that in a relatively short time California had seriously challenged New York as the leader of the brave new world.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.