DAY 66 - HOW TO BE AN ARTIST / by Debra Matlock

Exercise: Compare These Eight Nudes
Forget the subject matter — what is each of these paintings actually saying?

A Model (Nude Self-Portrait), by Florine Stettheimer, 1915.

So this feels a lot like the the Olympia painting, but later. “Hey thanks for the flowers!” and there’s no hand blocking her privates. It’s interesting it’s a self portrait. That feels pretty cheeky for 1915. Also with the exclusion of “Laure” it feels like she’s her own independent woman, maybe? Or maybe she’s offering the flowers to the viewer?

Curiator: Stettheimer was acutely aware of the subversive feminism of her “feminine” point of view. In 1915 she completed, Self Portrait, the first known example of a woman painting herself entirely nude. (Paula Modersohn-Becker is often credited as the first woman to paint a nude self portrait; however, the 2 works she painted in 1906 show her body naked only to the waist.)

As erotic subjects for male viewers’ pleasure, nude figures were traditionally painted with their eyes averted or closed. Stettheimer, however, based her self portrait on 2 nudes that were considered shocking and “morally depraved” in their time.... As with the Maja, she positioned herself resting on her right hip, ensuring that her bodily representation of sexuality—her bright-red pubic hair—is optimally presented to the viewer....

Stettheimer was already 45 years old when she completed Self-Portrait, an age when women were (and still are) considered well past their prime of youthful beauty. She was proud of her fashionably slim body with small breasts and shapely legs. At the time, women’s dresses were only beginning to rise above the ankle. The idea that a woman, particularly a wealthy, unmarried, middle-aged one, would paint herself nude was unthinkable.

Stettheimer never publicly exhibited Self Portrait. Both Parker Tyler and the artist’s sister Ettie referred to it with the title, “A Nude,” rather than identifying it as a self-portrait. Given the scandalous nature of the work, it is conceivable that those around her were blind to the resemblance. The artist must also have understood the controversy that acknowledging the work as a self portrait would have caused... ( 

Stettheimer is reclining but propped up on her right side by large pillows. She lies on a mostly white comforter or textile with red vine accents. On the left side of the painting her arm is bent at the elbow and she rests her head delicately on her finger tips. She has a modern looking short-ish red hairstyle. On the bed below this arm is a golden necklace made of circular beads.

Her other arm is also bent at the elbow but drawn in to her body with her forearm extended straight up. In the air she holds a bouquet of flowers, providing some of the only saturated color in the piece. Stettheimer’s legs are crossed at the ankles, leaving her pale body on display for the viewer.

The expression on her face is a mixture of aloof, bemused, and knowing. She looks right at the viewer, and her red lips are together and slightly curved upward into a very subtle smile. 

The background of this piece is less intricate than her later work. Behind the figure is a curtain depicted through vertical brushwork of white and light lilac. The brushwork is thick and visible, giving the background a great amount of dimension. It is flanked, across the top edge and side edges of the painting, by a light pink curtain, with black fringe. These curtains however don’t extend all the way down the left and right sides of the work; they are interrupted by the model’s sumptuous pillow.

This painting is inspired in part by Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting entitled “Olympia.” In Manet’s painting, the model is meeting the viewer’s gaze, wearing a gold bracelet with a maid behind her carrying flowers from an admirer. Olympia was more than likely modeled on a sex worker and for that reason caused a scandal at the Paris Salon of 1865. In contrast, Stettheimer is featured by herself, holding her own bouquet in the air. 

Stettheimer’s subtle changes radically alter the sitter from a prostitute to an independent, modern woman: Rather than receiving a bouquet from an implied admirer, she pleases herself by holding her own flowers.