Joseph Stella

Joseph Stella is a modern artist who was born in 1877 and died in 1946. He was born in Italy but around the age of 19/20 he came to New York to study medicine. He soon left the science field for the art field. In 1909, he returned to Italy again claiming that America was making him unhappy. Two years later, he went to Paris were he attended one of the Gertrude Stein’s salons and engaged with artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini, and more. After being exposed to futurism, cubist, and the fauves, he soon adapted some of these features and in 1913 returned to New York.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has an exhibition going on called the “Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950” where I saw Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase, and I saw Stella’s painting of The Swan created around 1924.

Stella, The Swan, 1924

This was an intriguing piece because it was the only work that was done in a tondo; I had never seen a modern work completed in a circular shape (though there may be some out there); mostly they were used in Renaissance work. Looking at much of his other works, this painting has more naturalistic qualities than most. Other works of his have cubist features where shapes are highlighted/emphasized in his works, such as Coney Island created in 1914.

Stella, Coney Island, 1914

Image from the MET

While The Swan has an easily noticeable swan, even though it is surrounded by a less realistic background.

The Swan has some fauvist qualities to it. For one, the background of his work has an unnatural features to it presenting a playful exploration with neon bright colors. The swan has natural coloring, but it is unrealistically large because of how far the lake is from the viewer.

Additionally, I’m not exactly sure how this work has futurist art features. Futurist art is meant to show the advancement of science and technology. However, one thing I’ve noticed among other futurism paintings is that many artists, though not all, use the dark blue in their paintings.

Based on the description of the painting in Philly, the swan may have been a representation of a “creative impulse” for Stella. It could also have been a reference to the Greek myth of Zeus changing into a swan to seduce Leda.

Feature Image from – Futurist Abstraction by Stella

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