Non­fic­tion

Florine Stet­theimer: A Biography

  • Review
By – September 6, 2022

Bar­bara Bloemink’s sweep­ing new biog­ra­phy of Florine Stet­theimer pro­vides rich details about her life and art, accent­ed by over 130 col­or images of her work. Cura­tor of Stettheimer’s 1995 ret­ro­spec­tive at the Whit­ney Muse­um, Bloemink pairs a lin­ear nar­ra­tive of Stettheimer’s life with com­pelling inter­pre­ta­tions of her art.

Born into the her­met­ic, finan­cial­ly com­fort­able world of New York’s promi­nent Ger­man-Jew­ish” fam­i­lies on August 29, 1871, Florine came of age in Europe with her moth­er and two sis­ters after their father aban­doned the fam­i­ly. Hav­ing lived for a time in Stuttgart, Ger­many and Paris, France, Florine returned to New York to study at the Art Stu­dents League. She and her fam­i­ly would con­tin­ue to trav­el between New York and Europe before set­tling firm­ly in New York on the precipice of the First World War.

Stet­theimer emerges in the biog­ra­phy as a fem­i­nist, both in her life and her work. A rich archive of mate­r­i­al aids Bloemink in recon­struct­ing Stettheimer’s days. Using some of the artist’s new­ly dis­cov­ered poems, Bloemink ani­mates Stet­theimer as a vibrant, engaged, crit­i­cal, and iron­ic thinker — rather con­trary, in fact, to some lat­er assess­ments of her as a shrink­ing flower. In detail­ing Stettheimer’s Nude Self-Por­trait” and oth­er beau­ti­ful repro­duc­tions of her work, Bloemink describes Stet­theimer as an inde­pen­dent, ful­ly con­scious, self-con­fi­dent mod­ern woman” who, in her poems as in her art, chal­lenges and even inverts the male gaze.

Stet­theimer died in New York on May 11, 1944, after a life­time of col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­er artists, poets, and cul­tur­al cre­ators. Bloemink’s new biog­ra­phy is a won­der­ful con­tri­bu­tion to her legacy.

Julie R. Ensz­er is a schol­ar and poet. She is the author of four col­lec­tions of poet­ry: Avowed, Lilith’s Demons, Sis­ter­hood, and Hand­made Love, and is the edi­tor of The Com­plete Works of Pat Park­er and Milk & Hon­ey: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Jew­ish Les­bian Poet­ry

Discussion Questions