Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)
Oil on canvas
Collections: American Art
Accession Number: 57.125
Gift of the estate of Ettie Stettheimer
Image: Brooklyn Museum photograph
This painting made me laugh when I first saw it. That’s me – that is how I spend the summer, flopping all over the place in thin dresses, moaning about the heat. The knitting on the floor are my historic projects, worked in cotton, which become limp and damp on their metal needles in my overheated hands. I work better in wool in this weather, preferably on wooden or bamboo needles, making socks or doing the caps for charity knitting. Small projects that do not sit in my lap, with springy wool that does not strain my muscles and make me even more bad-tempered than I already am on a daily basis.
The painting depicts the artist (lower right) with her mother and her three sisters celebrating the birthday of their mother. The ladies are arranged at a distance from one another. This spacing may be for artistic purposes or have hidden messages or it may be that it was just too hot to sit closer. As if the temperature is apparently not high enough, there is a very large birthday cake with lit candles in the forefront of the painting, resembling a large sun, radiating more heat into the room. The only person who does not seem bothered is the mother, all buttoned up to the chin and sitting upright in her chair.
I also love the vivid but slightly garish colours in this painting, even though they are reminiscent of tropical flowers, making me think of even hotter places in the world. The stringy branches of the trees are like strands of unraveled knitting, limp and motionless in the heavy, airless weather. The slight blur of the style of painting suggests to me that it is difficult to see things through the haze of the heat.
A nice final touch are those knitting bags beside the two upper sisters and, possibly, the mother.
My thanks to my friend Susan for introducing me to this painting.