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Joseph Stella
Two Wood Ducks on a Flowering Branch

$77,500

About

Joseph Stella was a visionary artist who painted what he saw, an idiosyncratic and individual experience of his time and place. Stella arrived in New York in 1896, part of a wave of Italian immigrants from poverty-stricken Southern Italy. But Stella was not a child of poverty. His father was a notary and respected citizen in Muro Locano, a small town in the southern Appenines. The five Stella brothers were all properly educated in Naples. Stella’s older brother, Antonio, was the first of the family to come to America. Antonio Stella trained as a physician in Italy, and was a successful and respected doctor in the Italian community centered in Greenwich Village. He sponsored and supported his younger brother, Joseph, first sending him to medical school in New York, then to study pharmacology, and then sustaining him through the early days of his artistic career. Antonio Stella specialized in the treatment of tuberculosis and was active in social reform circles. His connections were instrumental in Joseph Stella’s early commissions for illustrations in reform journals. Joseph Stella, from the beginning, was an outsider. He was of the Italian-American community, but did not share its overwhelming poverty and general lack of education. He went back to Italy on several occasions, but was no longer an Italian. His art incorporated many influences. At various times his work echoed the concerns and techniques of the so-called Ashcan School, of New York Dada, of Futurism and, of Cubism, among others. These are all legitimate influences, but Stella never totally committed himself to any group. He was a convivial, but ultimately solitary figure, with a lifelong mistrust of any authority external to his own personal mandate. He was in Europe during the time that Alfred Stieglitz established his 291 Gallery. When Stella returned he joined the international coterie of artists who gathered at the West Side apartment of the art patron Conrad Arensberg. It was here that Stella became close friends with Marcel Duchamp. Stella was nineteen when he arrived in America and studied in the early years of the century at the Art Students League, and with William Merritt Chase, under whose tutelage he received rigorous training as a draftsman. His love of line, and his mastery of its techniques, is apparent early in his career in the illustrations he made for various social reform journals. Stella, whose later work as a colorist is breathtakingly lush, never felt obliged to choose between line and color. He drew throughout his career, and unlike other modernists, whose work evolved inexorably to more and more abstract form, Stella freely reverted to earlier realist modes of representation whenever it suited him. This was because, in fact, his “realist” work was not “true to nature,” but true to Stella’s own unique interpretation. Stella began to draw flowers, vegetables, butterflies, and birds in 1919, after he had finished the Brooklyn Bridge series of paintings, which are probably his best-known works. These drawings of flora and fauna were initially coincidental with his fantastical, nostalgic and spiritual vision of his native Italy which he called Tree of My Life (Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth Foundation and Windsor, Inc., St. Louis, illus. in Barbara Haskell, Joseph Stella, exh. cat. [New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994], p. 111 no. 133). Two Wood Ducks on a Flowering Branch, though undated, shares imagery and similar compositional strategies with a silverpoint and crayon work of 1920-22: Lily and Green Squash (illus. Haskell, p. p. 119 no.142). Although Stella’s naturalist subjects are precisely drawn, they have more in common with the work of Georgia O’Keeffe than with that of John James Audubon. Stella himself wrote that an artist’s goal was “to catch and render permanent (materialize) that blissful moment (inspiration) . . . when he sees things out of normal proportion, elevated and spiritualized, appearing new as seen for the first time” quoted in Haskell, p. 57 from Stella’s Notes, p. 205). These birds on a branch, an everyday occurrence which even city people can find, if they look, live on this paper through Stella’s gaze, “new” and “as seen for the first time.” Haskell says that Stella turned from the mechanistic preoccupations of futurist and cubist painting, from Coney Island’s Luna Park and the soaring cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, to his nature subjects in order to “effect [his] . . . vision of innocence and joy.” The works contain skillful and subtle amalgams of the artist’s poetic, symbolist predilections, combined with his muscular drawing style and his appreciation of the literal and precise beauty of nature. Haskell identifies these drawings as, vehicles which enabled Stella “to depict every detail of his floral and bird subjects with maximum concreteness while simultaneously implicating them symbolically. . . . What he desired was the sense of revelation, not the revelation itself” (p. 109). In Two Wood Ducks on a Flowering Branch, the viewer, willing to take the time to participate in Stella’s gaze, is enabled, by the artist, to leave the hurly-burly of modern, industrial society, and enter into a blissful, peaceful, and spiritual world of “innocence and joy.”

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About the Artist

Joseph Stella

Joseph Stella was a visionary artist who painted what he saw, an idiosyncratic and individual experience of his time and place. Stella arrived in New York in 1896, part of a wave of Italian immigrants from poverty-stricken Southern Italy. But Stella was not a child of poverty. His father was a notary and respected citizen in Muro Lucano, a small town in the southern Apennines. The five Stella brothers were all properly educated in Naples. Stella’s older brother, Antonio, was the first of the family to come to America. Antonio Stella trained as a physician in Italy, and was a successful and respected doctor in the Italian community centered in Greenwich Village. He sponsored and supported his younger brother, Joseph, first sending him to medical school in New York, then to study pharmacology, and then sustaining him through the early days of his artistic career. Antonio Stella specialized in the treatment of tuberculosis and was active in social reform circles. His connections were instrumental in Joseph Stella’s early commissions for illustrations in reform journals. Joseph Stella, from the beginning, was an outsider. He was of the Italian-American community, but did not share its overwhelming poverty and general lack of education. He went back to Italy on several occasions, but was no longer an Italian. His art incorporated many influences. At various times his work echoed the concerns and techniques of the so-called Ashcan School, of New York Dada, of Futurism and, of Cubism, among others. These are all legitimate influences, but Stella never totally committed himself to any group. He was a convivial, but ultimately solitary figure, with a lifelong mistrust of any authority external to his own personal mandate. He was in Europe during the time that Alfred Stieglitz established his 291 Gallery. When Stella returned he joined the international coterie of artists who gathered at the West Side apartment of the art patron Conrad Arensberg. It was here that Stella became close friends with Marcel Duchamp. Stella was 19 when he arrived in America and studied in the early years of the century at the Art Students League, and with William Merritt Chase, under whose tutelage he received rigorous training as a draftsman. His love of line, and his mastery of its techniques, is apparent early in his career in the illustrations he made for various social reform journals. Stella, whose later work as a colorist is breathtakingly lush, never felt obliged to choose between line and color. He drew throughout his career, and unlike other modernists, whose work evolved inexorably to more and more abstract form, Stella freely reverted to earlier realist modes of representation whenever it suited him. This was because, in fact, his “realist” work was not “true to nature,” but true to Stella’s own unique interpretation. Stella began to draw flowers, vegetables, butterflies, and birds in 1919, after he had finished the Brooklyn Bridge series of paintings, which are probably his best-known works. These drawings of flora and fauna were initially coincidental with his fantastical, nostalgic and spiritual vision of his native Italy which he called Tree of My Life (Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth Foundation and Windsor, Inc., St. Louis, illus. in Barbara Haskell, Joseph Stella, exh. cat. [New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994], p. 111 no. 133). (Biography provided by Hirschl & Adler)
About the Seller
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