Florine Stettheimer was FABULOUS. Unabashedly fabulous! A striking, major figure in American modern art that you’ve probably never heard of. (I hadn’t).
Poet. Painter. Salonista extraordinaire. Purposefully unmarried. Intentionally beautiful. Vibrant. Female. Florine reveled in her carefully crafted, eccentric and very extravagant lifestyle — the glittering world of Manhattan’s elite. A realm she savored but incisively observed as irreverent poet and artist. Catching the rich layers of 1900s New York with an eye for all things beautiful BUT cutting a sharply acerbic wit.
For she suffered no fools.
Florine was born August 1871 into a wealthy German-American Jewish banking family. Her father (Joseph) soon deserted the family but Rosetta (mother) held her own fortune. Thus she and three daughters (Carrie, Ettie, and Florine) moved to Europe for the daughters’ arts education. Living between Paris, Munich, Italy, and Berlin before returning home to America at the onset of World War I. The Alwyn Court — a pinnacle of Art Deco modernism on W 58th Street — would be home for the rest of their lives. Remaining decidedly unmarried and adhering to the adage that “fully realized” women do not distract themselves with romantic love or children.
“Distraction” free, Ettie earned a PhD in Philosophy and published two novels under the pen name “Henry Waste.” Carrie assumed domestic management once back in America. While Florine wrote poetry and privately painted some of our country’s greatest modern works. The Stettheimers also hosted some of New York’s most famous cultural Salons — and, Marcel Duchamp’s legendary 30th birthday party. Unique at the time, these women were independent, financially secure, private, and FULLY empowered.
The Stettheimer women witnessed a time of great change in New York, not least of which was the skyline. Optimism bloomed as industry changed landscapes. Giving rise to urban culture and a general faith in human progress. Upper and middle classes embraced a love for Beautiful Things — craving luxury and opulence after the austerity of World War I. Almost a frenzy to sparkle with diamonds, live in “stylishly appointed” rooms, and eat and drink the finest. Florine’s spellbinding paintings capture this new pulse in wealthy Manhattan. Revered by elite taste makers as she deftly celebrated, paid tribute to, and was yet equally critical of high society, luxury, and institutions. Boldly colored, inventively composed, Florine’s visionary work shows modern, rich, avant garde society witnessing the dawn of “New York-ness” and painting it with graceful, chic satire and humor.
The fact she literally refused to ever sell her work was also unusual. Insisting she didn’t want her art “to end up in the bedroom of some man!” Instead, she hosted dynamic peers for private “Birthday Parties” for each new painting in her studio. As central intellectual aesthetes in Jazz Age New York, Florine and Ettie especially enjoyed close friendships with luminaries like Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, E. Steichen, Carl von Vechten (Music critic & Jazz lover), Gertrude Stein, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Florine did allow the Whitney or Museum of Modern Art to show her work publicly. For she shunned press, pursuing Art purely in a singular style all her own: ethereal, fiercely feminist, luxuriously delicate…and shredding racist, imperial, sexist themes in her details.
Century old critics incorrectly panned her work as “decorative” but buried in her sparkling finery, flowers, skyscrapers, and lacy interiors lurk some of the most subversive imagery in 20th century art. Gender bending silhouettes, Surrealist sensuality, self nudes (a first!), social parody, and cutting commentary on the follies of human character. Leading her work (and personality) to be admired but left unknown to the public. And as her style was so unique, she fell through the cracks. Where she sort of remains today.
An Artist’s Artist. And Cult Heroine.
As a wealthy Manhattan woman, Florine likely did NOT Cook. Upper class homes hired domestic staff for cooking and cleaning. That said, wealthy homes in the 1920s and 1930s would similarly cook dishes that showcased one’s wealth. Before the rise of early refrigerators, dishes like Aspic, Deviled Eggs, Salmon Mousse, Jello Molds, even Crudites showed your kitchen was equipped with an expensive Cold Room. Champagne cocktails, Gin Fizz, Claret, Mint Juleps, even Lemonade demonstrated access to fine alcohol and citrus garnish during Prohibition. The phallic “Candle Salad” at holidays was all the rage — literally an upright banana nestled in a yellow ring of canned Dole pineapple with a maraschino cherry on top — practically screamed “we can afford fresh produce in winter!” When the more affordable “Frigidaire” launched 1925, middle class homes joined the party and these dishes? Fell somewhat out of favor.
Data from 1920s show women spent 44 hours per week cooking meals. Thanks to technology (i.e. refrigeration and canning), upper and middle class Americans now had new fresh and ready-made food options. Vitamins and the concept of dietary health benefits lead to diverse diets. Between 1920-1929, consumption of carrots increased x7, lettuce x4, and green beans x6.5! Fresh O.J. and tomato juice became available year-round while processed foods, gas stoves, and the “Frigedaire” (1925) modernized many American kitchens forever.
One fascinating part in this era of food history, is that while wealthy homes still trended towards more lavish, traditional European dishes (such as Florine’s steamed lobster picnic below), Manhattan’s upper crust hotels and restaurants certainly capitalized on these new foodstuffs and cold storage technologies. Creating new menu items that were cutting edge in 1920s/30s but later? Trickled down into more middle class bistro, diner, and cafeteria fare. Long distance trucking, cold cars, and the invention of those big, almost walk-in refrigerators allowed high-end commercial kitchens to hold (and sell) fresh greens (a novelty!) all year round. And crisp, chilled SALADS became hugely popular. Especially among New York’s wealthiest women lunching on “diet fare.”
Here are the original Jazz Age era recipes for the what was then, brand new Salads — Chef’s Salad, Chicken Salad(s), Waldorf Salad, Chinese Chicken Salad, and the original French Dressing. I am also including Bob Cobb’s original Brown Derby Cobb Salad as well since New York quickly copied the Los Angeles icon.
POSTSCRIPT: ChristineCarlson from What Do You Crave delighted in Florine so much that she created a new cocktail in her honor! The “Nouvelle Femme!” recipe is below.
Original “diet fare” from (likely) Louis Diat, Chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel with roots in the 1930s English American immigrant community in New York.
A published 1941 recipe is clearest, “In a bowl, place equal amounts chopped lettuce (place in bottom of the bowl), boiled chicken, smoked ox tongue, and smoked ham, all cut in julienne style. Add 1/2 hard-cooked egg for each portion, Place some watercress in the center and serve with French Dressing.”
(I’d skip the ox tongue…)
A bit different is this 1936 recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2nd printing), Irma Rombauer called “Chef Salad:”
- Rub a salad bowl with: Garlic
- Place in it tender lettuce leaves
- Add to them anchovies, pitted ripe olives, sliced radishes, peeled and quartered tomatoes, sliced hard-cooked eggs, shredded Swiss cheese
- Peel, slice and add: 3 hard-cooked eggs
- Drain and chop: 6 or 8 anchovies
- Peel, slice and add: 2 tomatoes
- Moisten the salad with French Dressing
- Toss it in the bowl. Serve at once.
A published 1937 Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook Chef’s Salad Recipe skips the cheese but adds chopped celery, endive, and watercress.
That said, iconic Los Angeles Brown Derby restaurant developed a “Derby Chef Salad” in the late 1920s, some 11 years earlier than the New York Ritz. The Derby Chef was originally a light starter plate but by late 1930s and 40s, saw the salad take on heavier and fancier ingredients. In general though, the Derby Chef was a light tossed salad made from chopped iceberg lettuce, hard boiled egg, tomato and roquefort dressing. Menu deviations saw guest appearances from sliced radish, garlic, chicory, Swiss cheese, fresh parsley, bacon, anchovies, and lemon.
CHICKEN SALAD is first seen in German American recipes in 1845 and then again in 1865 (with an option to swap in turkey). Early Germanic cooks saw this protein packed salad as a primary meal, not repurposing leftovers. In the 1920s, twists on high-end chicken salad pop up with additions of chopped olives, green celery leaves, lemon juice, and cucumber pickles.
This 1930 recipe lists the “Old Way Of Making It:”
- 2 large chickens, boiled
- 6 hard boiled eggs
- 4 uncooked egg yolks
- 4 tablespoonfuls lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoonful cayenne pepper
- 6 stalks celery
- 2 teaspoonfuls mustard
- 1 teaspoonful salt
- 4 tablespoonfuls vinegar
- 6 tablespoonfuls milk
- 1 pint bottle olive oil
- “Chop the chicken, white and dark meat, not too fine, being careful to remove every bit of skin and not to use the hard or gristly parts. Cut up the celery and chop hard-boiled eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Make a dressing of the rest of the ingredients by mixing the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper together until smooth and thick. Drop in the oil a little at a time, then add vinegar, lemon juice, and lastly, milk. Just before you are ready to serve mix all ingredients together and mix with the dressing.”
CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD
Chinese ingredient and inspired ingredients became all the rage in big American cities starting in the early 1930s. But these salads were a far cry from what we think of as a Chinese Chicken Salad since raw salads were (& are) not traditional in Asia. Uncooked vegetables being considered dangerous and holding little appeal to most Chinese. Many early versions of this American concoction used par-boiled or stir fried ingredients and served hot or cold.
Cold Chicken salads, however, do have roots in Szechwan were “pong pong” chicken (or “bong bong”) is mixed with blanched bean sprouts and dressed in whisked peanut butter, red peppers, and garlic sauce. Food historians think THIS may the start to what became Americanized as the “Chinese Chicken Salad” (aka “Oriental Salad” or in San Francisco, “So See Chicken.” Early recipes seem to exclude soy based ingredients with high-end restaurants and hotels serving salads to fashionable Hollywood / Broadway diners made generally from chicken, iceberg lettuce, fried wontons, and a spicy, sesame oil dressing. (And sometimes, canned tangerine.)
For something akin to a Jello Mold, this charmer appeared in 1936 for household or potluck gatherings:
- Chopped iceberg lettuce
- crispy fried noodles
- strips of roasted chicken (breast usually)
- 1 cup almonds
- 2 tablespoons gelatin (sic)
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1&3/4 cup boiling chicken stock
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1&1/2 cups finely cut boiled chicken
- Chili sauce
- Whipped Cream
- Salt to Taste
- “Blanche the almonds, then place them in a hot oven until they are quite brown. Shred very fine. Soften the gelatine (sic) in cold water, add the boiling stock, and stir until gelatine (sic) is dissolved. Add the pineapple and strain through a meshed sieve. Add salt to taste and paprika. Arrange the chicken, pineapple, and almonds in a mold; add the chilled liquid and place in the coldest part of the refrigerator to set. Unfold on a large platter garnished with lettuce or chicory and serve with a dressing of whipped cream, to which a little chili or horseradish has been added. This makes eight to ten servings.”
FRENCH DRESSING believe it or not is rooted as a 1300s popular digestive for raw vegetables and was mostly vinegar based until this big popularity of American style salads in the 20th century. One of the earliest recipes for French Dressings (plural) is 1928 and based on COLOR:
- Pink dressings were made with Heinz tomato ketchup and paprika (with some mustards).
- Yellow French Dressing used lemon juice.
- Orange French Dressing was a whisked blend of lemon and paprikas.
The tomato based, creamy French Dressing Americans know today stems from a 1928 Edgewater Beach Hotel Salad (Cook)Book by Arnold Shircliffe which used Heinz tomato ketchup as the base.
The Brown Derby in Los Angeles, however, was considered the final word on midcentury French Dressing. Publishing this recipe in 1949 after decades in use:
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- Juice 1/2 lemon
- 2.5 tbs salt
- 1 tbs black pepper
- 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp English mustard
- 1 garlic chopped
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 cups salad oil
- Mix all ingredients well and chill in a 2 qt Mason Jar.
Other Salad Dressings in 1920s-1930s modern restaurants and kitchens include Thousand Island, Russian, and Ranch. Bottled options from Kraft and Miracle Whip played pivotal table roles as early as 1915 and reigned supreme until Julia Child reintroduced vinaigrettes in the 1960s.
COBB SALAD is thought to be the parent of all Chef Salads and is named for Bob Cobb, owner of that legend, the Brown Derby. Tired of LA’s “hot dog-hamburger- diet,” he experimented with an avocado in his icebox. Chopping it up to toss with chopped lettuce, celery, tomato and a leftover piece of bacon for his dinner. A few days later, he tried it again with some chicken breast, chives, watercress, hard boiled egg, and a wedge of roquefort cheese for dressing. And the salad legend was born!
THE NOUVELLE FEMME
“Florine Stettheimer; Painting Poetry” from Stephen Brown & Georgiana Uhlyarik in conjunction with the Jewish Museum (New York), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), and Yale University Press (New Haven & London) JEWISH MUSEUM ART SHOW: Summer 2017
“A Case for the Greatness of Florine Stettheimer” by Roberta Smith, New York Times, May 18, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/arts/design/a-case-for-the-greatness-of-florine-stettheimer.html)
“From the Archives; Florine Stehttheimer’s Rococo Subversive” by Linda Nochline, September 1, 1980 in Art in America Magazine (http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/from-the-archives-florine-stettheimer-rococo-subversive/)
“Crystal Flowers; Poems and a Libretto” by Florine Stettheimer (1923). Edited by Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo (2010)
“How Florine Stettheimer Sabotaged Her Own Art Market” by Sarah Cascade on May 26, 2017, Artnet News (https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/florine-stettheimer-market-938318
National Women’s History Museum, “Women, Food & the Jazz Age” by Sydnee C. Winston (http://www.nwhm.org/blog/foodie-friday-women-food-the-jazz-age/)
“1920’s Food: Introduction to Processed Foods”, “1920s Art: The Age of Surrealism & Art Deco” from 1920s-1930s.com (http://www.1920-30.com)
“Art Deco — One of the Most Enduring Design Styles” by Petra Bjelica, May 9, 2017 for Walls With Stories (Wallswithstories.com)
Joy of Cooking, Irma Rombauer
Assorted Food History and Recipe Research thanks to Food Timeline (Foodtimeline.org)
“How Suffragists Used Cookbooks As A Recipe for Subversion” by Nina Martyris for NPR’s “The Salt,” November 5, 2015 (www.pr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/05/454246666/how-suffragists-used-cookbooks-as-a-recipe-for-subversion
The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s Sarah D Coffin and Stephen Harrison. Contributions from Emily M. Orr. Publication from Yale Univ. and the Cleveland Museum of Art (2017 Exhibition)
“The Flamboyant Feminism of Cult Artist Florine Stettheimer” by Alexxa Gotthardt, March 15, 2017 artsy.net
4 thoughts on “FLORINE STETTHEIMER: An Artist’s Kitchen (Jazz Age)”
And now I’m craving chicken salad…
I love your blog because I learn so much with each new post and the artwork feels inspiring. Off to the kitchen I go!
THANK YOU! When I read your comment, I felt such gratitude that you took the time to write. Just means a lot to me! There is much more to come too!
What an incredible post!! You are a very talented writer!! I’m thoroughly intrigued by Florine now and I absolutely love her paintings!! Well done!!
Huge thanks for your note here. I am LOVING these articles. One day, I hope I have enough for a book honestly. Did you read the first ones on Frida, Monet, and Robert Townsend?