Bloemink’s thorough, engaging book is the first comprehensive biography and full reading of Stettheimer’s paintings, and gives the artist the attention she has long deserved ... Bloemink also illuminates Stettheimer’s little-known but important work in interior, furniture, costume, and set design, and intersperses her own analysis with selections from the artist’s blunt, fanciful, and at times caustic diaries and poetry, giving us a sense of the artist’s own complicated voice ... Bloemink takes on Stettheimer’s complexities and contradictions with aplomb. As she traces Stettheimer’s unique creative and personal evolution, the author also offers a cultural study of the people and places that made up the artist’s world ... not only an essential history of Stettheimer’s life and work, but of the early modernist world around her.
One particular gift of Bloemink’s biography is that it presents the vers-libre poetry that Stettheimer wrote alongside her paintings, and shows that her verse, though produced without the immense technical care that she poured into her visual art, is in its way just as remarkable ... Bloemink also does the necessary work of putting pictorial circumstance into social context: she discovers, for instance, that an ice-skating picture long thought to depict Rockefeller Center actually shows a forgotten rink in Central Park, near Columbus Circle, and she explains what this urban space looked like and meant to New Yorkers at that time. Bloemink can’t resist some panicky pieties, to be sure ... To represent her as a model contemporary is to miss exactly what was courageous in her life and work.
Bloemink brings her account to life using a wealth of archival material from Stettheimer’s world ... Bloemink’s detailed account of the artist’s creation of the costumes and stage set [on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts]...and her exacting, or obsessive, supervision of the production, gives perhaps the clearest view of Stettheimer’s vision and temperament. The behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the Gesamtkunstwerk’s evolution is also a window onto the class- and culture-bound, hit-or-miss radicalism of the period’s white avant-garde, in which a combination of wildly racist notions and forward-thinking experiments produced almost inexplicable endeavors, with very mixed results ... That said, through a sensitive chronology of Stettheimer’s life and enthralling, illuminating formal and symbolic decryptions of her paintings, Bloemink recasts Stettheimer’s perceived peculiarities as a fully formed, if cagey, kind of politics, and her work’s content as more explicitly progressive than I—and maybe other Stettheimer fans—had previously understood. The discussion of three paintings dealing with racism does not unearth new information, but their triangulation generates nuance ... Reading Bloemink’s expert interpretations, paintings familiar to me—like the 1915 nude self-portrait that adorns the book’s jacket, or Stettheimer’s winking updates to the fête-galante genre—take on fresh, or more pointed, significance.
... a new biography, deeply researched and beautifully illustrated, with much to recommend it ... Ms. Bloemink uses 'infamous' and 'notorious' as though they were sometimes complimentary terms (they are not) and she is forever undecided as to whether Virgil Thomson’s last name includes a 'p' (it doesn’t) ... the author sometimes seems to want to turn Stettheimer into a tidy 21st-century urbanista, and in so doing takes on a dubious omniscience ... Stettheimer’s playfulness is sometimes weighted down by Ms. Bloemink’s solemnity ... It is to Ms. Bloemink’s credit that she rarely gets pulled away from telling a story for very long. Nor does she ever seem to hate her subject, which has become an annoying academic conceit in recent years. Moreover, her best criticism is very good indeed ... At such moments Ms. Bloemink not only guides us toward seeing Stettheimer but almost to 'hearing' her as well.
Despite its obvious scholarly heft, [Bloemink's] writing is suffused with the joie de vivre often attributed to her subject matter ... If anything, the art historian may prove too polite a party guest, gently setting the scene, but letting the more intimate drama play out mainly offstage (for instance, we can never quite pin down the nature of Florine’s relationship with Duchamp). It is only in a few honest paragraphs in the epilogue, where Bloemink admits the artist wasn’t 'particularly nice,' that we get a hint of the book that could have been ... what Bloemink salutes as feminism seems precariously pinned to Stettheimer’s personal privilege ... A stronger argument is her assertion that Stettheimer was dismantling notions of class in commodity culture ... but too often the artist is reduced to the sum of her work ... In the end, Bloemink’s special Stettheimer is still a Stettheimer worth knowing better.
Truer words may never have been written about Stettheimer, who, despite being an integral part of the New York art scene during the first half of the 20th century, doesn’t rank anymore among that era’s most famous artists ... If anything, Bloemink’s biography goes to show that Stettheimer may have been more well-connected than most artists of the era ... There’s also the issue of Stettheimer’s class, which is more often than not dealt with uncritically ... It can be difficult to square Stettheimer’s progressivism with how much her privilege protected her ... Perhaps Stettheimer would have accepted all this credit, some of it undue; perhaps not. There’s a tendency to ascribe unsubstantiated views to Stettheimer, and Bloemink sticks to the facts of Stettheimer’s life and art.
Bloemink...raises some interesting questions about how artistic reputations are built and maintained, about the development of American art in the 20th-century, about social class, gender roles, and the influence of gender on aesthetics ... She makes ample use of primary sources, particularly Florine’s diaries and her often sardonic poetry. The biographer’s trenchant arguments, nearly always convincing, analyze Stettheimer’s feminism, her uniquely feminine style, her radical social attitudes, and her adventurous approach to art-making. Bloemink patiently deciphers the sources, characters, and events that shaped Stettheimer’s major works, with savvy attention to their social and political significance. Her book, beautifully produced in Germany, has all the illustrations, in black and white and color, one could reasonably ask for. The book has two main flaws, neither of which is really Bloemink’s fault. One is Stettheimer’s highly privileged social class, which kept her from the financial, social, and aspirational challenges that make up the meat of many biographies of creative people. It sometimes seems that the greatest dramas Stettheimer ever faced were dealing with hotel food and the endless social obligations of being part of a large, upper class family ... Bloemink discovers that critical pages have been cut out of Florine’s diary, rendering the climax of the affair a loss to history. As a result, Stettheimer probably comes across as a bit more stuffy, detached from the trials of life, and querulous than she was in real life.