Peter A. Juley & Sons, “Stettheimer’s Studio at the Beaux- Arts Building” (1944), photo (Rare book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York)
Around 1915, Florine Stettheimer did something unthinkable for a wealthy, aging, single woman: she painted herself in the nude. The artist’s life-size “Nude Self Portrait” is only the second known nude self-portrait painting by a woman, and the first to be executed with such a subversive, direct gaze. The artist would have already been considered an old woman by the time she painted the piece at 45, which was the average lifespan of an American female born in the early 1870s as Stettheimer was. Yet she shows herself not only at the height of her beauty, but also at the height of her artistic powers. Surrounded by frilly white bedclothes and holding a vivid bouquet over her pubic area, Stettheimer’s nude is femmy and bold. Moreover, her bemused, knowing look challenges the female passivity seen in previous works by Titian, Manet, and other male-gaze greats. With this painting, Stettheimer asserts control of her sexuality, her image, and herself.
The artist’s groundbreaking nude self-portrait is just one of many revelations in Florine Stettheimer: A Biography by Barbara Bloemink, who has been an expert on the artist since the 1990s.