Retrospective

‘She Was an Original’: A Brief History of Women Modernists from New York

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918, oil on canvas. PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS, PHILADELPHIA, GIFT OF ETTIE STETTHEIMER

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918, oil on canvas.

PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS, PHILADELPHIA, GIFT OF ETTIE STETTHEIMER

In honor of the Portland Museum of Art’s show “O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr, Zorach: Women Modernists in New York,” we turn back to past articles in the ARTnews archives about the exhibition’s four titular artists—Georgia O’Keeffe, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florine Stettheimer, and Helen Torr. Below are excerpts about these modernists, their shows in New York, and their practices.

“Exhibitions in New York”
March 25, 1933

An American Place is . . . showing a group of paintings by Helen Torr (who is, in private life, Mrs. [Arthur] Dove), a precedure similar to that of the Strand exhibition, when one room is given over to paintings by Mrs. Strand. Mrs. Dove alternates between abstract and naturalistic effects, and as often as not pays her husband the sincere compliment of following in his footsteps.

“Reviews and Previews”
By Sarah C. Faunce
April 1962

Marguerite Zorach, Bathers, ca. 1913–14, oil on canvas. JACEK GANCARZ/NORTON MUSEUM OF ART, PURCHASE, R. H. NORTON TRUST, 2015.72

Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Bathers, ca. 1913–14, oil on canvas.

JACEK GANCARZ/NORTON MUSEUM OF ART, PURCHASE, R. H. NORTON TRUST, 2015.72

Marguerite Zorach [Kraushaar] had an exhibition of landscapes and still-lifes from the past six years, together with a few earlier works. After some quite successful Fauve-inspired pieces of 1908-10, she became involved in the kind of “Cubistic” form that was a familiar popular art in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties. Properly speaking it is no form at all, mixing it as it does a kind of naïve realism with elements of a most sophisticated, coherent vision. This inconsistency is always most glaring in the figure, and it is most fortunate that in her recent work—the bulk of the show—Miss Zorach works almost entirely with rocks, trees and flowers. She is capable, as in Autumn Still-Life, of achieving a burst of color harmonies that really works, but too often she matches acid pinks and greens and violets in over-simplified, chunky shapes that convey too little of an undoubtedly genuine feeling for the natural world. $400-$2,500.

“Reviews and Previews”
By Lawrence Campbell
December 1963

Florine Stettheimer [Durlacher] had only one-man show in her life, at Knoedler in 1916. After her death there was a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1946. There, for the first time, a large public was able to marvel at the fantastic paintings done her last thirty years, known before 1946 only to her circle of friends—the cream of New York’s literary and artistic society. The occasion of this present show is the publication of Parker Tyler’s Florine Stettheimer: A Life in Art (Farrar & Straus). All the works come from public or private collections. Miss Stettheimer’s paintings have value as documents about an almost vanished social world which saw the founding of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum. They are filled with details, illusions and penetrating observations about her friends. But to one who did not know New York in those years, they are of value because she painted in an extraordinary way. Her color is rich and reminds one a little of Ensor. Her strange arabesques and pen-pricked details are separated from each other by off-white spaces like an aquarium or like a Valentine card stretched to infinity. Her figures of well-known people (Marcel Duchamp, Jo Davidson, Alfred Stieglitz, Henry McBridge, Carl van Vechten, Joseph Hergesheimer, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., etc., and her sisters Carrie and Ettie) spring up on all sides like colored weeds. It is interesting that she was able to free herself from a tight academic training. One of the paintings refers to the opening, in 1934, of Four Saints in Three Acts, for which she designed the sets and costumes. This was the first time cellophane was used in sets. She was an original, and her paintings deserve to be seen together more often.

“Georgia O’Keeffe at 90”
By Mary Lynn Kotz
December 1977

George O'Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit Abstraction No. 5, 1930, oil on canvas. ©BOARD OF TRUSTEES, NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C./NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C., ALFRED STIEGLITZ COLLECTION, BEQUEST OF GEORGIA O'KEEFFE, 1987.58.4

George O’Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit – Abstraction No. 5, 1930, oil on canvas.

2016 THE GEORGIA O’KEEFFE MUSEUM AND ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK/NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C., ALFRED STIEGLITZ COLLECTION, BEQUEST OF GEORGIA O’KEEFFE, 1987.58.4

Georgia O’Keeffe enters her studio. She looks much younger than any of her photographs. Her white hair, still streaked with black, is pulled back from her face. There is a strong feeling of warmth and vitality as she smiles, the smile setting soft vertical lines across her face. She is wearing her costume, a white cotton long-sleeved dress crossed over in front, kimono style, and fastened with a silver abstract pin. Over the dress she wears a loose cotton coat of aquamarine, like a collarless long shirt or a smock. She holds a cane of rich dark wood, gnarled at the handle.

We get right to her new pictures: she asks that they be placed on the wall for me to see. There are two of them, abstractions in oil, fro a series of four. I see wide gray vertical columns in a field of blue, in each painting a different width, a different shape. They are stark and simple in composition, with variations in light and shading, and they appear to be floating upward. There is a force to them. . . .

What do you see first, its formal content or narrative content, I ask. She answers crisply: “A painting is like a person. You either like it or you don’t.” She is a bit weary of art-historical questions. After all, she’s been asked those same questions for 50 years.

“I like the door [of the studio] because of the space of the door in relation to the wall,” she says. “Filling a space in a beautiful way. That is what art means to me.”

Copyright 2016, Art Media ARTNEWS, llc. 110 Greene Street, 2nd Fl., New York, N.Y. 10012. All rights reserved.


  • Issues