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Florine and Ettie Stettheimer papers

 Collection
Call Number: YCAL MSS 20

Scope and Contents

The Florine and Ettie Stettheimer Papers document the lives and careers of the Stettheimer sisters, who presided over an early twentieth-century New York City salon. The papers span the dates 1898-1974 but the bulk of the material covers the period 1906-53.

The Papers consist of four series: I. Correspondence (Boxes 1-5); II. Diaries (Boxes 6-7); III. Writings (Box 8), divided into two sections, Florine Stettheimer and Ettie Stettheimer; and IV. Other Papers (Boxes 9-10), divided into three sections, material related to Four Saints in Three Acts, material related to Florine Stettheimer's Paintings, and Miscellaneous Material. Oversize material is located in Box 11.

The alphabetically arranged correspondence in Series I concerns the painting career of Florine Stettheimer, Ettie Stettheimer's writing career, and their respective friendships with the artistic elite of the day. Only correspondence deemed "harmless" by Ettie was saved (See Ettie's note preceding the correspondence in Box 5, folder 88); she destroyed the rest (see also Donald Gallup's letter dated August 29, 1952). Of the material that remains, much has been quoted in FlorineStettheimer: A Life In Art (1963) by Parker Taylor and Florine Stettheimer: Still LifesPortraits, and Pageants (1980) by Elisabeth Sussman. A close examination of the papers, however, reveals a portrait of the Stettheimer sisters and their circle of friends that has more depth to it than what has so far been published.

One unidentified letter from "Billy" (Box 5, folder 108), for example, noted as "very personal" by Ettie, survives. It concerns a misunderstanding about the frames Florine had made for her paintings. In another letter dated February 2, 1942 (Box 3, folder 59), the New Art Circle petitioned Florine to join the "well-known art collectors and personalities in the art and theatrical world" by lending one of her paintings to a benefit exhibition. Florine replied, "I am not a collector of paintings." Florine also revealed her ambivalence about the future disposal of her work in an undated letter to Kirk Askew (Box 1, folder 2).

Ettie's forthrightness is evident in a letter to the Museum of the City of New York, in which she is "heartsick" over the lighting on Carrie's doll house, and she does not always agree with even her closest friends. In an exchange with Alfred Stieglitz they argue over the contents of one of his exhibitions. A hint of intimacy is preserved in the correspondence between Ettie and Elie Nadelman but in one undated letter to him she returns one of his etchings. There is also some interesting correspondence in folder 27 about a public letter Ettie wrote to Dashiell Hammett which was published in the New Leader, on June 7, 1941.

Except for the Stettheimer family letters and some letters from various artists, most of the correspondence is Ettie's. It is typically about some aspect of her writing. Topics include the publication and content of her novels, Philosophy (1917) and Love Days (1923), and her Memorial Volume (1951). There are many condolence letters after Florine's death, correspondence concerning the disposition of Florine's painting, and a good deal of "thank-yous" for Crystal Flowers, the anthology of Florine's poems that Ettie had printed and privately distributed to "Florine's friends and the friends of her paintings."

The letters that chronicle Stettheimer friendships reveal much about the various artists, writers, dancers, and intellectuals of the period. Although Florine met Pavel Tchelitchew late in her life, this correspondence shows a close friendship. The Stettheimers's friendship with Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe is also well documented, as is the relationship between Stieglitz and O'Keeffe. Florine's portrait of Stieglitz was a great curiosity for both of them and in a letter to Florine dated Thanksgiving night, 1928, Stieglitz mused on the nature of portraits in general.

Leo Stein was the only one of Ettie's correspondents to criticize her Love Days (October 31, 1923) and he was frank in his views of modern art and artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Maurice Sterne. Yet, on December 13, 1932, he admits that "like everyone else, I've taken to painting." Although Carl Sprinchorn corresponds with Florine at first, most of his letters are addressed to Ettie. He writes of the progress in his work and the frustration he experiences trying to sell his paintings. Ettie sends him money very Christmas and encourages him in his artistic pursuits.

The friendship and professional collaboration between Virgil Thomson and Florine is well-documented, but the letters in this collection fail to show its depth. The same is true for the correspondence of Henry McBride. The Carl Van Vechten material, however, is more well-rounded.

Robert Locher sent Christmas cards with drawings by Charles Demuth to the Stettheimer sisters for eight years and, enclosed in one of Locher's letters, is a manuscript about Florine in Demuth's hand. Notable single letters in the series include a letter from Adolph Bolm's wife Beatrice about his death (June 6, 1951) and a June 13, 1944 poem-letter from e.e. cummings (Box 1, folder 14).

The Stettheimer family correspondence is found in Box 5, folders 88-91. It consists of letters from Florine to her mother and sisters written during periods of separation. In one October 5, 1916 letter, for example, Florine describes the arrangements for her exhibition at Knoedler's Gallery and Adolphe Bolm's reaction to her ballet. In a letter from December 10, 1922 she mentions the tea she hosted to show off her portrait of Carl Van Vechten. The 1934 letters from Hartford describe preparations for and the opening of Four Saints in Three Acts.

Series II, Diaries , fills Boxes 6-7 of the Stettheimer Papers and includes the journals of both Florine and Ettie. All were censored by Ettie and they include notations, in her hand, explaining some of the entries. Florine's diaries begin in 1906 and end two years before her death. She records her ideas and feelings about the "Old Masters" on her visits to European churches, museums, and palaces and "impersonal impressions" of her travels. Some of the diaries document events at home and at her studio. The 1935 diary was written during a visit to California before the death of her mother. The later entries concern her illness.

Ettie's diaries are incomplete. They begin in 1916 and end in 1924. The diaries, often in the form of letters to Florine and others, consist of edited and typed extracts from her journals. Ettie explained that she edited her journals because they were not good examples of her work.

Series III, Writings is divided into sections containing Florine and Ettie Stettheimer's works. Florine's writings consist of poems found by Ettie after Florine's death and published in Crystal Flowers (1949). The poems, mostly undated, are in Florine's hand. They are foldered by chapters with Ettie's 1949 transcripts in folders 133-41. Some chapters, as Ettie noted, retain Florine's titles, and others have Ettie's. The titles indicate the subjects, "Nursery Rhymes," "Nature, Fauna, Flora," "Americana," "Moods," "People," "Notes to Friends," and "As Tho' From a Diary." A manuscript of Florine's ballet, Orphee of the Four Arts, is found in folder 142. Undated and in Florine's hand, it includes some original sketches.

Ettie's writings are located in the second section of the series. There are no typescripts of any of her published works. The contract with Alfred A. Knopf Inc. for Love Days is housed in folder 145. Ettie's other writings, in folders 143-44 and 147, consist of a 1910 book review, and two unpublished papers, "Whitewashing President Wilson in the German Press," and "The Objectivity of History and the Problem of Value." The typescript of Ettie's "Forward" to Crystal Flowers is located in folder 146.

Series IV, Other Papers , is divided into four sections. Material related to Florine's work on Four Saints in Three Acts can be found in the first section, in folders 148-58 and in the Oversize Box 11, folders 181-82. The papers include her notes on the difficulties she had with the scenic production, photographs of the working sets, photographs of the production, theater programs and play bills (including the original premiere edition), reviews, and the score for "Pigeons on the Grass Alas."

The second section contains material related to Florine's paintings. Folders 159-70 hold articles by Carl Van Vechten, Marsden Hartley, Paul Rosenfeld, Henry McBride, Parker Tyler, and Glenway Wescott. This section also includes reviews of Florine's exhibitions, exhibition catalogs, and invitations to the openings.

Miscellaneous items are located in the third section. Virgil Thompson's musical portrait of Florine is included, together with menus by Carrie Stettheimer and items related to her doll house, and Carl Van Vechten's photographs of the Stettheimer home, Virgil Thomson, and Gaston Lachaise. Folders 177-78 contain Ettie's "Theater Record" scrapbooks for 1907-09. The collection ends with two folders of oversize photographs of the stage sets for Four Saints in Three Acts.

There is additional Stettheimer material in the printed collection at The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Library also owns one of Florine's paintings: "Birthday Bouquet for Carl Van Vechten." Three additional paintings,"Portrait of Joseph Hergesheimer"(1923), "Portrait of Carl Van Vechten" (1922), and "Studio Party (or Soiree)" (ca. 1915), were transferred permanently to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2019.

Dates

  • 1898-1974 (inclusive)
  • Majority of material found within 1906 - 1953

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Florine and Ettie Stettheimer Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their literary heirs or assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Stettheimer Papers were donated to The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library by Ettie Stettheimer from 1951-1954, by David McKibbin in 1956, and by Joseph Solomon in 1955, 1967 and 1979.

Extent

4 Linear Feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.stetthe

Overview

The papers contain correspondence, diaries, writings, materials related to the production of Four Saints in Three Acts and the paintings of Florine Stettheimer, and miscellaneous papers.

FLORINE STETTHEIMER (1871-1944)

Florine Stettheimer, born on August 19, 1871, and Henrietta (Ettie) Stettheimer, born on July 31, 1875, in Rochester, New York, were two of the three Stettheimer sisters who, from 1915 to 1941, presided over one of New York City's most cosmopolitan salons. Florine was a painter, Ettie an author, and Carrie, the third sister, created a dollhouse, famous for its miniature art works made especially for it by important artists of the period. The three sisters never married. They lived with their mother, Rosetta Walter Stettheimer, until her death in 1935, fiercely protective of one another because their father had abandoned the family. Florine, Ettie and Carrie Stettheimer had an older sister, Stella, and a brother, Walter, both of whom, after their marriages, moved to California.

Florine studied art from 1892 to 1895 at the Art Students League of New York. In the early 1900s Florine, her sisters, and their mother lived in Europe. Florine studied art in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Switzerland. The four Stettheimers returned to New York in 1915.

In 1916 Florine had a one person exhibition at M. Knoedler and Co. Gallery and although she exhibited paintings in later shows, she never had another solo exhibition. During this same period, she wrote a ballet, Orphee of the Four Arts, which interested the dancer Adolphe Bolm, but was not produced.

During her lifetime, Florine was best known for designing the stagesets and costumes for Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's opera FourSaints in Three Acts (1934). Only her family and friends like Carl Van Vechten, Marsden Hartley, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, Pavel Tchelitchew, Carl Sprinchorn, and Henry McBride knew much about her paintings. Florine generally painted alone and never allowed anyone to see her works until they were finished. The paintings, usually portraits, were "unveiled" at parties hosted by Carrie, who was known for her elaborate meals.

Florine became ill in 1942 and died May 11, 1944 in New York Hospital. Carrie died just six weeks later.

ETTIE STETTHEIMER (1875-1955)

Henrietta Walter Stettheimer graduated from Barnard in 1896 and received an M.A. in psychology in 1898. In 1908 Ettie received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Freiburg. Under the pseudonym Henrie Waste, she published two novels, Philosophy, (1917) and Love Days, (1923).

Ettie was the most outgoing and the most flirtatious of the sisters. She guided the conversation and was the intellectual focus of the gatherings, held at the Stettheimer's West 85th Street residence, Alwyn Court; their summer home, "Andre Brook," in Tarrytown; and the Beaux Arts building on Sixth Avenue, where Florine had her studio.

After 1930 Ettie wrote little except letters. Following the deaths of Florine and Carrie, Ettie spent her remaining years attending to her sisters' affairs. She gave Carrie's doll house to the Museum of the City of New York and distributed Florine's paintings among the nation's most important art museums. Ettie approved several posthumous exhibitions of Florine's work and in 1949 published a book of Florine's poems, which Carl Van Vechten titled Crystal Flowers. Finally, in 1951, Ettie published her own Memorial Volume which contained her previously published Philosophy and Love Days, her dissertation on William James, and four short stories. Ettie Stettheimer died on June 1, 1955 in New York City.

For additional information, see Florine Stettheimer: A Life in Art by Parker Tyler (1963) and Florine Stettheimer: Still Lifes, Portraits, and Pageants by Elisabeth Sussman (1980).
Title
Guide to the Florine and Ettie Stettheimer Papers
Status
Under Revision
Author
by Ellen Zak Danforth
Date
September 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

Contact:
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977

Location

121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

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