In Florine Stettheimer’s frequent group portraits, her family and friends are not only clearly identifiable, but represented in attitudes that express their inner selves — an idea with roots in Symbolist painting of the late nineteenth century. In Family Portrait I (1915), she shares an elegant afternoon outdoors wither sisters and mother. Ettie, at left with a Japanese parasol is turned away, conversing with Carrie, who gazes at the viewer. Florine, too, looks outward, presiding over each bouquet of flowers and a dish of fruit that pays homage to the apples of Paul Cezanne. Their mother, Rosetta, the proper Victorian in black, is reading a novel by Ettie, the family intellectual.
Thick brushwork, deep jewel-tone colors, shallow perspective, and wealth of surface pattern all suggest Stettheimer’s familiarity with Post-Impressionist painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Paul Gauguin, infused with her own brand of social perceptiveness
The forms of Agnes Pelton’s Sea Change (1931) channel the movement and energy of water, which the artist regarded as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of human thought. Created the year she left Long Island for the Southern California desert, Sea Change can be understood as a meditation on personal transitions; however, Pelton refused such specific readings of her art. Influenced by modern Theosophy, an esoteric blend of religion and philosophy, as well as the mysticism of the American Symbolist painters, Pelton believed that art channels the universal energies of the natural world through color and light, which are experienced rather than purely seen. She described color as “active,” likening it to a voice or “vibration” that is ideally perceived like “the fragrance of a flower [which] fills the consciousness with the essence of its life.”
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC.