Seeing Florine Stettheimer’s “Heat” Through Language Read More
Verbal Description tours at the Jewish Museum bring our exhibitions to life for visitors who are blind or have low vision, using descriptive language and touch objects to convey the visual world. In conjunction with Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry, an exhibition dedicated to Jazz Age painter, poet, designer, and early feminist, the following verbal description closely examines a work by Florine Stettheimer.
Heat is a mid-sized vertical painting featuring Florine Stettheimer with her three sisters Carrie, Ettie, and Stella, and their mother.
This vibrant painting is divided relatively equally into three horizontal registers: a top brushy green section, a middle warm yellow section, and a bottom vibrant reddish-orange section. All three layers of the background are saturated but show evidence of the brushwork. The piece, like most of Stettheimer’s work, is representational though far from realistic.
The green top section looks like a murky forest background, featuring a small white moon and an imposing, leafless tree in the top-right corner.
The five figures in this piece are spread across the bottom and middle section. The placement of these figures does not follow the rules of traditional perspective — that is, the ones in the middle yellow section don’t appear to recede farther than the ones in the bottom orange section.
In the center at the top of the middle-yellow section is Rosetta, the formidable mother figure. She sits on a white and pink patterned armchair, wearing a long sleeved black dress with a v-shaped neckline and a black choker. In her left hand she holds the handle of a large, round purse that rests on the yellow ground.
Moving clockwise, at 3 o’clock Carrie sits in a plush red chair. She’s wearing a yellow dress with delicate blue straps. Her right arm is bent at the elbow and draped over her knitting project. Her other arm is also bent at the elbow and she is looking at her nails.
At 5 o’clock we have Florine, laying back on a white lounge chair, one leg propped on a thin rectangular yellow step stool. She might be asleep — she leans off the side of the chair, arms falling over the edge — in one hand she holds a round purse, with the other she plays with a small brown cat.
At 6 o’clock, right in the bottom-center of the piece and cropped by the bottom edge of the work, is a round table depicted in perspective, so we see the top as an oval. The table is covered in a light pink tablecloth with some concentric circles in different colors. In the center is a birthday cake for Rosetta, which reads “Many Happy Returns”. Also on the table, to the left of the cake, is a vase with cherry blossom branches. To the right of the cake is a pitcher with small glasses on a tray.
At 8 o’clock is Ettie in a slinky light pink dress with a few flower details. The flowy dress has thin straps and ends in a point around her outstretched ankles, revealing bare feet. She reclines on a yellow lounger with a curled up cat near her feet. She stretches her arms — one above her head and the other out to the side.
At 10 o’clock we have Stella sitting in a dark green chair, seen in profile. It looks as if she might be leaning back and conversing, although no-one appears to be listening. She is wearing a short-sleeved black dress and her crossed bare legs and heels are in the air. And on the yellow ground next to her is a forgotten bag of knitting with a yarn ball rolling out of it.
This is a painting in which everything is drooping in the heat — the women, the cherry blossom branches — you can feel the weight of a steamy New York summer taking its toll.
To learn more about programs for visitors with disabilities at the Jewish Museum, visit TheJewishMuseum.org/Access. All programs are free.
Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry is on view at the Jewish Museum through September 24.
Seeing Florine Stettheimer’s “Heat” Through Language was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.