A forerunner to the feminist movement
Stettheimer alluded to the scandalous nature of the work, as scholar Barbara Bloemink has pointed out, by inserting into the scene a wide-eyed Juliette Roche Gleizes (an artist and wife to Albert), who ogles the painting with a shocked expression on her face. It wasn’t a rare reaction to Stettheimer’s work, which didn’t fit easily into any of the era’s burgeoning movements.
There were certainly elements of Surrealism and Dada in her paintings, but they were nonetheless passed over regularly by critics and scholars (both during her lifetime and after), who focused instead on their feminine aspects. Their sprays of flowers, theatrical scenes of New York life, and supine ladies wrapped in gossamer were too often misunderstood as the cousins of Rococo froth, naive painting, or decorative art.
But a closer reading of these characteristics reveals not only a radical fusion of avant-garde influences, but also a celebration of womanhood—and female autonomy—that today reads as brazenly feminist.
Take Stettheimer’s Family Portrait, II (1933). It shows the artist, her mother, and her sisters in a surrealistic landscape that is an amalgam of their home, the Manhattan skyline, and a levitating arrangement of larger-than-life flowers. Age-old symbols of femininity and the female sex, the flowers take center stage. Each of them, as scholar Linda Nochlin has conjectured, could represent one of the Stettheimer daughters—bursting with irrepressible individuality.