Two Works by Rare-to-Market Painter Florine Stettheimer Head to Christie’s

The paintings could jointly fetch as much as $360,000.

Florine Stettheimer, Tulips Under a Canopy (ca. 1925). Courtesy Christie's.

Vanishingly few works by the Modernist painter and poet Florine Stettheimer, a fixture on the New York artistic scene between the World Wars, have ever come to the auction block. That number will increase considerably on April 18, when Christie’s New York offers two of the few paintings by the artist remaining in private hands. Both appeared in an exhibition of her work at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1995. Between them, they are estimated to fetch up to $360,000.

“It is so exciting to have two Stettheimer paintings to offer as she is so rare to market, with most works donated by her estate to museums across the United States,” said Paige Kestenman, senior specialist of American art at Christie’s. “These works have remained in private hands as they were gifts to the artist’s attorney Joseph Solomon, who helped arrange many of those institutional bequests for the estate, and are being sold by his family.”

The still life Tulips Under a Canopy (ca. 1925) is estimated to sell for as much as $300,000; even its $200,000 low estimate would be her second-highest auction result. Measuring some 40 inches high, the canvas shows seven tulips of various hues, their long, spindly stems outlined against a white background and under a theatrical canopy. The artist had painted floral still lifes for a decade at this point, and created elaborate floral arrangements in her home when she hosted guests. She coined the term “eyegays” to indicate that she saw flowers as being for the seeing, not the smelling.  

“In fact, only eight works by Stettheimer have ever gone to auction and nothing since 2017,” Kestenman pointed out. “Stettheimer’s record at auction is $375,000, and it was for a flower painting, but we understand that at least two still life paintings have sold in excess of that amount in the years since. In our opinion, the estimate is very reasonable for such a large-scale, impressive example.”

A man in black standing by a tree, with two small figures on a branch above

Florine Stettheimer, Henry McBride on Winslow Homer (ca. 1924). Courtesy Christie’s.

Estimated to sell for up to $60,000, Henry McBride on Winslow Homer (ca. 1924) depicts the titular art critic and is one of 17 portraits of prominent cultural figures from that decade, all of which feature attributes that refer to the sitters’ interests. Referred to as “the dean of art critics,” McBride supported Modern artists, writing about Stettheimer as well as artists in the circle of photographer/dealer Alfred Stieglitz. 

Stettheimer previously portrayed the critic in a 1922 canvas, where she showed him as the judge at a tennis tournament. In the work coming up at Christie’s, she painted him on top of a reproduction of a Homer watercolor, Palm Tree, Nassau (1898). Standing on one branch are two miniature versions of the critic himself. One of them waves two U.S. flags, perhaps suggesting his critical approval of American artists such as Homer. Thus, the title is a pun, referring to both the way she has depicted him literally on top of a Homer work, and the notion of him commenting “on” Homer. 

While she may remain lesser known than many of her friends and associates, Stettheimer has as legitimate a claim to fame as any artist of her day. She was at the center of New York’s lively avant-garde, hosting events, along with her sisters Carrie and Ettie, which boasted attendance by worthies like Arthur Dove, Marcel Duchamp, Marsden Hartley, Gaston Lachaise, and Francis Picabia.

When Duchamp, a close friend, organized a posthumous Stettheimer retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, it was the museum’s first such full-scale exhibition of a woman artist. Eight years earlier, she had appeared in the inaugural “Art in Our Time” exhibition at the same institution, alongside the likes of Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso—and only two other women, Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe.

To enumerate only some of her more recent plaudits: Andy Warhol would call her his favorite artist, and art historian Linda Nochlin penned an in-depth study of her in Art in America in 1980, terming her slyly feminist style “Rococo subversive.” More recently, New York’s Jewish Museum mounted the 2017 show “Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry.” Two years later, when MoMA reopened after its latest expansion, it devoted a gallery to Stettheimer and her circle. Art historian Barbara Bloemink published a biography in 2022. (Both canvases coming to Christie’s will appear in a forthcoming Bloemink-authored catalogue raisonné.) Today, Stettheimer’s works appear in museums from MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum in New York to the L.A. County Museum of Art. 

The April 18 sale of Modern American art will also feature works by artists such as Milton Avery, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, O’Keeffe, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, and N.C. Wyeth.

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