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 Joseph Stella  (1877 - 1946)

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Lived/Active: New York / Italy/France      Known for: modernist figure, landscape and still life painting

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Joseph Stella
from Auction House Records.
Telegraph Pole
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Muro Lucano, near Naples, Italy, Joseph Stella is best known for his painting Brooklyn Bridge, 1919 a futurist work that is an icon of the Industrial Age.

He arrived in the United States in 1896 and studied medicine and pharmacology and then attended the Art Students League under William Merritt Chase.  From 1900 -1909, he was an illustrator, especially interested in immigrant life in New York.  One of his assignments was in Pittsburgh to do a series of industrial drawings, and this experience seems to have begun his interest in the subject of cities and the way industry affected people's lives.

From 1909 to 1912, he was in Europe, particularly France and Italy, and associated with modernists including Matisse and Modigliani.  He exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show and from then on was associated with the avant garde including Duchamp, Man Ray, etc.  He lived primarily in New York City and did a series of Futurist paintings of the city including Coney Island Battle of Lights that he exhibited at the Armory Show.

From 1927 to 1934, he was in Rome and Paris, and in 1940 traveled to the West Indies. Although most of his Futurist paintings were done between 1912 and 1923, he continued to reinterpret those subjects until his death in 1946.


Source:
Artist files, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, S-Z):
Stella was born June 13, 1877 at Muro Lucano, Italy, a mountain village not far from Naples. He became painter laureate of Muro Lucano when he was in his teens with a representation of the local saint in the village church. Stella immigrated to America in 1896 and studied medicine and pharmacology, but upon the advice of artist friend Carlo de Fornaro, who recognized his undeveloped talent, he enrolled at the Art Students League in 1897. Stella objected to the rule forbidding the painting of flowers, an indication of his lifelong devotion to flower painting. He also studied under William Merritt Chase in the New York School of Art and at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island in 1901-1902, displaying the bravura brushwork and dark Impressionist influence of Chase.

Stella liked to paint the raw street life of immigrant society, rendering this element more emotionally than the city realists, the Aschcan School headed by Robert Henri. Stella went through a progression of styles--from realism to abstraction--mixing media and painting simultaneously in different manners, reviving styles and subjects years later.

The "Survey" sent Stella to illustrate the mining disaster of 1907 in Monongah, West Virginia, and in 1908 commissioned him to execute drawings of the Pittsburgh industrial scene. Steel and electricity became a major experience in shaping his responses to the modern world, and Stella succeeded in portraying the pathos of the steelworkers and the Pittsburgh landscape.

Stella went abroad in 1909 at the age of thirty-two, lonely for his native land. He returned to Italy, traveling to Venice, Florence and Rome. He took up the glazing technique of the old Venetian masters to get warmth, transparency, and depth of color. One of Stella’s paintings was shown in the International Exhibition in Rome in 1910 and was acquired by the city of Rome.

The influence of the French Modernists awakened his dormant individuality. His friendship with Antonio Mancini, a Futurist, also played a role in his new style. At the urging of Walter Pach, Stella made a trip to Paris, where he met Gertrude and Leo Stein and saw the work of Matisse and the leading Fauves, spurring him to paint with alluring, vivid colors.

Stella effected a quick transition from traditionality to the abstract idiom. At the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1912, he saw the works of his countrymen Carlo Carra, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. Primed with these influences, Stella returned to New York in late 1912. His preference for structural composition is obvious in the paintings in which he fused high-key color with broad broken strokes, which were included in the 1913 Armory Show. A month following the Armory Show, Stella premiered at the Italian National Club to which the Italian ambassador made a special appearance to toast “an event in the history of the Italian colony here.” "Battle of Lights" (1914) was Stella’s first major Futurist work created as a result of the Armory Show,propelling Stella into the vanguard of Modernism. Color chips in various sizes with dense design and spears representing light beams allows the composition movement within a stable axis. This caused a sensation when displayed in a group show at the Montross Gallery in 1914.

Stella was represented in a group show at the Bourgeois Galleries in 1917 and 1918, and began a series of industrial paintings which grew out of the "Survey" commission, most notably the "Brooklyn Bridge" (1917-1918) in which he combined Cubist and Futurist techniques. This was exhibited in a one-man show at Bourgeois in 1920 and advanced his reputation substantially as the “poet” of the industrial scene. Stella had a show at the Whitney Studio Club in 1921. His most ambitious work "New York Interpreted" (1920-1922) inspired by Robert Delaunay’s "La Ville de Paris" was displayed at his solo show at the 1923 Société Anonyme of which he was a charter member.

At the same time, Stella was producing lyrical nocturnes and paintings heavy with symbolism bearing resemblance to the work of Odilon Redon. He also executed innumerable drawings of flowers as he wrote, “my devout wish, that my every working day might begin and end. . . with the light, gay painting of a flower.” Birds, tropical subjects, and fruits drawn with precision are themes which preoccupied him. His association with Dada artists at the Arensberg salon led Stella to paint on glass and collage. Until the end of Stella’s life, he collected scraps of cardboard and fashioned collages from them, portraying the old and battered over the new.

Stella spent a year in Naples in 1922 and made frequent trips to Europe and North Africa in the next eight years, living mostly in Paris where he met with critical success and exhibited at the Galerie de la Jeune Peinture. During the mid-1920s he tended to primitivize his work with symbolic nudes and worked in the traditional values of the Italian masters. He returned to New York in 1934 and was revitalized by a trip to Barbados in 1937, stopping in Paris and Italy. In 1938 Stella was back in New York painting flowers and still lifes until his death of heart failure on November 5, 1946.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Vered Gallery:
Joseph Stella, one of America’s foremost modernist painters, was born in Muro Lucano, near Naples, Italy in 1877.  At the age of nineteen, he immigrated to New York City.  He initiated his formal training at the Art Students League*, studying there during 1897.  In the following year he enrolled in classes at the New York School of Art*, where he was taught by William Merritt Chase.

From 1905 to 1906, Stella supported himself by working as a magazine illustrator.  His work from this period consisted of dark, grimly realistic drawings depicting aspects of the coal and steel industry in Pittsburgh.  In 1909, he traveled to Europe where, for the next three years he immersed himself in the avant-garde* art of Italy and France, notably Futurism*, Cubism* and the work of Paul Cezanne. 

Returning to the United States, he began to paint colorful, semi-abstract figure and still-life studies.  He also took part in the Armory Show of 1913*, which served to further strengthen his commitment to advanced European tendencies.  Soon after this, his iconography* became strongly influenced by industrial-age America. 

In such major works as Battle of Lights, Coney Island, (1913; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), he rendered the noise, speed and dynamism of the urban American environment in large, high-keyed, futurist-inspired canvases.  He later produced a series of pictures in which he portrayed the rhythms and monumental verticality of New York City in a similar mode, such as his Brooklyn Bridge of 1919 (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut).  In the mid-1920’s, Stella painted in a more representational* yet distinctly primitive style, often imbuing his works with religious or sexual symbolism.

Joseph Stella died in 1946.  A prolific artist, he exhibited his oeuvre widely and held memberships in both the Societe Anonyme* and the Modern Artists of America.  As one of the first American artists to adopt the futurist aesthetic, he created many works that stand as major landmarks of modernism in the United States. 

In addition to Yale University, his paintings can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and 40 other Museums including the Musee Nationale in Paris.   Joseph Stella’s work is represented in over 250 books on American Art including 6 monographs.

Biography from Cline Fine Art:
Joseph Stella was born in Italy, and moved to New York City in 1896.  He made a name for himself in the early 1900's as a Social-Realist illustrator.  In 1912, however, he spent a year in Paris where he was greatly influenced by Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism and made a radical change to a more abstract style.

Stella returned to New York to exhibit several paintings in the 1913 Armory Show.  Stella, along with recent New York arrivals Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, became associated with the Walter and Louise Arensberg group. His work from this period catapulted Stella from obscure illustrator to that of famous American modernist.

His work is included in the collections of most major American museums of art, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, NY and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Source: Cline Fine Art

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Joseph Stella is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
Modernism



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