Seeing Florine Stettheimer’s “Family Portrait II” Through... 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.
This large horizontal painting is a group portrait of the artist Florine Stettheimer, her mother and her two sisters Carrie and Ettie. We can describe the painting in three layers: background, middle-ground and foreground.
The middle ground of this painting, occupying roughly the bottom half, is the interior in which the three sisters and their mother are depicted. Standing in profile, almost all the way to the left of the painting, we have Florine in a black suit with a red collar and red heels, holding a palette. A few inches to the right is her sister Ettie, sitting in a blue and white patterned armchair with an open book in her lap and red fan in her hand. She is wearing a short sleeved dress that is tied at the neckline.
Mirroring those figures on the viewer’s right is the mother, seated in a yellow chair, more or less facing us, with a patterned shawl over a light pink dress, with billowy skirt. And lastly we have Carrie, standing next to her mother in a light blue sleeveless dress, lacey shawl dangling over her shoulder, cigarette in hand. All of the characters are placed on top of a floral yellow and brown rug, with a half circle in the center. On that half circle are gauzy triangles with each of the women’s names written on them, which helps identify who is who.
In the center and foreground are three large flowers. They are each around 8 inches in diameter, and truly dominate the scene. They are proportionally much larger than any of the human figures. All three flowers, a saturated-red poppy, a white lily, and a pink rose, are in full bloom and feature textured tendrils of green streaming out from them.
The background of the piece occupies roughly the top half of the canvas and appears to be the view out of a picture window. This background is painted a medium-blue, with various amounts of white added into it. It looks like a view of the water and sky, and in fact there is a very faint horizon line separating the two.
Across this blue background are various New York landmarks. At the right edge, about 2 inches down from the top, Stettheimer painted an architectural detail from her apartment building. This detail, a fire-breathing salamander, is opulent in terms of draftsmanship but has no color. It’s inscribed with their address, “182 W 58, New York”. The right vertical edge of the piece features a long, skinny red curtain with gold trim that partially obscures the architectural detail. About 5 inches left of this detail is a small white depiction of the statue of liberty, floating on a star-shaped island.
The left edge features a white cascading curtain that descends in steps, with vibrant yellow trim. That curtain partially obscures an image of the RCA building at Rockefeller Center. The building is white and has yellow capital letters reading RCA (for Radio Corporation of America) on top, and in light blue “MUSIC HALL” running vertically down the building. Next to that is Cleopatra’s needle, the Egyptian obelisk installed outside the Met Museum, with a blue and white banner running vertically along its front reading “4 Saints Seen by Florine”. Next to the needle is the Chrysler Building, and a few inches in from that is a chandelier which seems to echo the building’s form.
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 “Family Portrait II” Through Language was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.