JOSEPH STELLA (1877–1946)
Lily and Bird, about 1919
Silverpoint and colored pencil on paper, 29 x 23 in.
Signed (at lower right): Joseph Stella
EXHIBITED: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, November 23, 1985–January 4, 1986, American Masterworks on Paper: Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints, pp. 6, 46 no. 47 illus. // (probably) Richard York Gallery, New York, October 5–November 17, 1990, Joseph Stella: 100 Works on Paper, no. 36
EX COLL: [Dudensing Galleries, New York]; sale, Christie’s, New York, December 7, 1984, lot 324; [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1984]; to private collection, 2006 until the present
Around 1919, seeking to create a blissful environment filled with tranquility and innocence, Stella turned his attention to intimate drawings of flowers, birds, and butterflies conceived as spare, minimalist shapes isolated against an unadorned background in a manner not unlike that found in Asian art. (Flowers were particularly important to Stella, who once said: “My devout wish, that my every working day might begin and end––as a good omen––with the light, gay painting of a flower”.) Rendered in silverpoint and colored wax pencil with an amazing degree of precision, these personal excursions into representational realism exude a contemplative tone, their gentle lyricism acting as a foil to Stella’s frenetic, motion-filled cityscapes and mechanistic industrial scenes. (Along with artists such as Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Philip Leslie Hale, Stella was among the late-19th and early-20th century American painters to embrace the art of silverpoint, a demanding technique, first used by ancient scribes and artists and later Old Masters, which involved drawing with a fine-tipped silver rod on a surface often primed with a light coating of gesso. Drawn to the thin, pure line created by silverpoint, as well as by the medium’s inherent light-reflecting quality, Stella once described the meticulous process of cutting “with the sharpness of my silverpoint” as a “sensuous thrill.”