Florine Stettheimer. Costume design (Ariadne on a Panther) for artist's ballet Orphée of the Quat-z-arts. c. 1912. Oil, putty, fabric, and beads on canvas, 17 1/8 x 25" (43.5 x 63.5 cm). Gift of Miss Ettie Stettheimer. © Estate of Florine Stettheimer.

“My attitude is one of Love/ is all adoration/ for all the fringes/ all the color/ all tinsel creation”

Florine Stettheimer

“What I should like is to paint this thing,”1 wrote Florine Stettheimer in the closing line of her poem, “Then Back to New York.” By “this thing,” Stettheimer meant New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, when its streets, parks, theaters, museums, parties, and personalities became the subjects of her paintings and poems. “How can I choose,” Stettheimer asked in a different poem. “So many/So much/New York’s make up.”2

The “many” and “much” of New York is found in Family Portrait, II (1933), in which Stettheimer depicts herself, her mother, and her sisters against the city skyline. Stettheimer is standing at left with a paintbrush in one hand and a palette in the other; standing at right is Stettheimer’s sister Carrie, who designed a cherished dollhouse. Between them is another sister, Ettie (a novelist), reclining in a blue armchair, and their mother, Rosetta, ensconced in her own gold-colored armchair. Behind the Stettheimers are emblems of New York, from the Chrysler Building (above Ettie) to the Statue of Liberty (above Rosetta). But Family Portrait, II is hardly a conventional cityscape—or, for that matter, a conventional portrait. Skyscrapers and chandeliers float side by side in the light-blue background, and three enormous flowers hover between the stylized figures of the Stettheimers, who occupy an elaborate carpet decorated with floral, vegetal, avian, and geometric patterns.

Born in Rochester, New York, Stettheimer spent much of her childhood and adulthood in Europe, studying art and visiting museums. While in Paris in 1912, she attended an early performance of L’après-midi d’une faune (The Afternoon of a Faun), an avant-garde ballet staged by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The performance—celebrated by some, criticized by others—inspired her to create a ballet of her own, complete with sets and costumes.3 But in 1914, World War I prompted Stettheimer, along with her mother and sisters, to relocate to New York. There, the gatherings hosted by the family attracted artists, writers, composers, and performers as varied as Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, and Carl Van Vechten. Over the years, Stettheimer painted a portrait of each of these friends, a format she also used for family. In Portrait of My Mother (1925), Rosetta Stettheimer is surrounded by a piano, bookcase, vase, and card table, all signs of the life—rich in music and literature, art and games—that she cultivated for her daughters.

The abundance of petals, jewels, lace, and ribbons in works such as Portrait of My Mother and Four Panel Screen led the feminist art historian Linda Nochlin to describe Stettheimer’s sensibility as “subversive rococo.”4 Stettheimer embraced the sinuous lines, dainty forms, and light colors associated with rococo, an ornate, stereotypically feminine style that emerged in 18th-century France. But Stettheimer, according to Nochlin, used this style to undercut the sexism of the 20th-century art world. While some assumed that she was untrained and inexperienced, the opposite was true. “Stettheimer,” wrote her friend, the critic Henry McBride, “knew what she was doing.”5

Note: Opening quote is from Linda Nochlin, “Florine Stettheimer: Subversive Rococo [1980],” in Elisabeth Sussman with Barbara J. Bloemink, Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995)

Annemarie Iker, independent scholar, 2023

  1. Florine Stettheimer, “Then Back to New York,” in Crystal Flowers, ed. Ettie Stettheimer (Pawlet, VT: Banyon Press on Rives, 1949), 79.

  2. Stettheimer, “Which,” Crystal Flowers, 81.

  3. On Stettheimer’s ballet (never performed), see Barbara J. Bloemink, The Life and Art of Florine Stettheimer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 42-48.

  4. Linda Nochlin, “Florine Stettheimer: Subversive Rococo [1980],” in Elisabeth Sussman with Barbara J. Bloemink, Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995).

  5. Henry McBride, Florine Stettheimer (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1946), 13.

Wikipedia entry
Florine Stettheimer (August 19, 1871 – May 11, 1944) was an American modernist painter, feminist, theatrical designer, poet, and salonnière. Stettheimer developed a feminine, theatrical painting style depicting her friends, family, and experiences in New York City. She made the first feminist nude self-portrait and paintings depicting controversies of race and sexual preference. She and her sisters hosted a salon that attracted members of the avant-garde. In the mid-1930s, Stettheimer created the stage designs and costumes for Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's avant-garde opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. She is best known for her four monumental works illustrating what she considered New York City's "Cathedrals": Broadway, Wall Street, Fifth Avenue, and New York's three major art museums. During her lifetime, Stettheimer exhibited her paintings at more than 40 museum exhibitions and salons in New York and Paris. In 1938, when the Museum of Modern Art sent the first American art exhibition to Europe, Stettheimer and Georgia O'Keeffe were the only women whose work was included. Following her death in 1944, her friend Marcel Duchamp curated a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. It was the museum's first retrospective exhibition of work by a woman artist. After her death, Stettheimer's paintings were donated to museums throughout the United States. In addition to her many paintings and costume and set designs, Stettheimer designed custom frames for her paintings and matching furniture, and wrote humorous, often biting poetry. A book of her poetry, Crystal Flowers, was published privately and posthumously by her sister Ettie Stettheimer in 1949.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
American artist and set designer, New York City.
Artist, Designer, Painter, Pastelist, Pastellist
Florine Stettheimer, Stettheimer
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


57 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Florine Stettheimer Clothbound, pages
  • Florine Stettheimer Paperback, pages

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit https://www.moma.org/research/circulating-film.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].