Stettheimer, who lived with her mother and two sisters in Manhattan, was part of the city's avant-garde cultural elite. Between the World Wars, the Stettheimer women hosted social and intellectual gatherings, attended by artists and writers such as Marcel Duchamp and Carl Van Vechten....
Stettheimer, who lived with her mother and two sisters in Manhattan, was part of the city's avant-garde cultural elite. Between the World Wars, the Stettheimer women hosted social and intellectual gatherings, attended by artists and writers such as Marcel Duchamp and Carl Van Vechten. Florine used these salons as inspiration for over 150 paintings in which she portrayed the lifestyles and interactions of New York's leading luminaries. During the summer of 1919, she recorded the summer version of their activities in "Lake Placid." That season, she, her sisters, and their mother stayed at a large cottage owned by their cousins on Moose Island. Many of their sophisticated friends from New York City joined them during their vacation, and Stettheimer commemorated their visits and pleasurable pursuits in this large painting, filling her canvas with more than a dozen friends and family. The cast of characters was identified in 1946 in the catalogue of a posthumous exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in which "Lake Placid" was included. On the veranda in the lower left corner, Stettheimer's mother Rosetta, dressed in black, presides over the gathering. The artist, wearing a yellow hat, tiptoes down the stairs hoping that her mother will not notice - Stettheimer had apparently been ill, but did not want to miss the fun (Barbara J. Bloemink, "The Life and Art of Florine Stettheimer," New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995, p. 99). Just beyond, her sister Carrie swims toward a raft where sister Ettie, dressed in red, rests. Elegantly profiled on the diving board is the Marques de Buenavista, a Peruvian diplomat. Carrie is seen again on the raft sitting with a yellow umbrella framing her head. The figure lying on her back in a flowered bathing suit is Marie Sterner, who was a member of the staff at Knoedler Gallery and later opened her own art gallery, where she specialized in contemporary art. Modernist sculptor Elie Nadelman, who was born in Warsaw and worked in Paris before settling in America in 1914, rests his elbows on the float. The two figures swimming toward the raft from the right are Ettie, again, and Rabbi Stephen Wise, a leader of the liberal wing of Reform Judaism. Maurice Sterne, a prolific painter, sculptor, and graphic artist who was born in Latvia, immigrated to America in 1889, and worked in a modernist style at this time [see 41.111], paddles the yellow canoe. Reclining in the canoe under a red umbrella is Elizabeth Duncan, teacher of modern dance and a sister of Isadora Duncan. Piloting the motor boat is Stettheimer's cousin Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman, a Professor of Economics at Columbia University and the president of the Lake Placid Shore Owners' Association for twenty-six years. He pulls his water-skiing daughter, Hazel. The figure tottering on the high diving platform has not been identified. In the background is the steamer "Doris," which delivered mail and carried passengers to the camps along the lake shores. One figure stands ready to disembark with two suitcases. That Stettheimer portrayed several events on a single canvas and included figures more than once was typical of her approach. According to her diaries, not all of the guests were present at Lake Placid at the same time, but she united them in her painting. Stettheimer, who was well-schooled in European art, may have borrowed this form of simultaneous narrative from medieval and Renaissance painting. Her idiosyncratic style, which features vivid hues, flattened, simplified shapes, distortions of scale and perspective, and complex compositions, reflects other sources as well. These include the pure, bright colors of Fauvism, the disregard for linear perspective often seen in primitive and folk art, and the androgynous figure style of William Blake. In addition, "Lake Placid" might be considered a modern reinterpretation of the eighteenth-century "fête galante," an elegant representation of the upper classes pursuing entertainments out-of-doors, a subject made famous by Antoine Watteau. David Tatham has suggested that Stettheimer may also have been making an ironic comment on the religious and class bigotry endemic in the Adirondack hotels and clubs at the time. While the diverse and highly accomplished members of Stettheimer's group were free to visit a private cottage and to frolic in the lake, they would not have been admitted to the local inns and associations because most of them were either Jewish or Roman Catholic ("Florine Stettheimer at Lake Placid, 1919: Modernism in the Adirondacks," "The American Art Journal," vol. 31, nos. 1 & 2, 2000, pp. 4-31). Contemporary art critic Henry McBride, however, did not mention such social commentary, finding the painting lighthearted and amusing. He wrote, "There is no doubt but that to her [Stettheimer] Lake Placid represents 'heaven.' The young lady swimmers all wear costumes from the smartest shops on Fifth Avenue, and the motor boats, gondolas, houseboats etc., are of the latest models. There are one or two young men at the swimming party, so Miss Stett's Aunt Kate [sic], clad in severe black, chaperones everybody from a balcony" (quoted in Bloemink, p. 99). Janet Comey
Lower left: FS 1919 [FS in monogram];
The artist; to Miss Ettie Stettheimer, her sister; to MFA, 1947, gift of Miss Ettie Stettheimer.
Gift of Miss Ettie Stettheimer