By KRIS BRANDENBURGER, writer, mechanic, and faculty member in the Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts program and the Bachelor of Arts Completion program
I was in Chicago not very long ago on business and decided to stay an extra day so I could spend some relaxed time at the Art Institute. It was just my luck that there was a glorious Matisse exhibit, "Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917." The show is now up at New York MOMA and well worth seeing if you have the chance. But it was not the Matisse that captured my heart—it was Florine Stettheimer’s "Portrait of Virgil Thomson."
Imagine my surprise in finding myself facing this piece as I turned a corner into a small gallery niche to get away from the Matisse hordes. I was stopped in utter delight without having any idea what I was looking at.
The colors just jumped off the canvas, and the frame was a playful mix of corrugation and defined edges—it both fanned and framed the piece. And then I saw what the subject matter was—"Virgil Thomson," "St. Gertrude," "St. Therese," "St. Virgil," and the wonderfully playful "Florine St."
Now, I have loved Gertrude Stein’s work from the moment I found it, her play with language and its structures continue to teach me how to be alive to possibilities. Stein led me to Virgil Thomson, whose compositions have been less interesting to me than his body of reviews and criticism. But it was their inspired collaboration on the Opera, "Four Saints in Three Acts," that led me to Florine Stettheimer; Thomson wrote the music, Stein the libretto, and Stettheimer did the costumes and sets.
So thank you Gertrude Stein and thank you Virgil Thomson for the gift of Florine Stettheimer—I remain yours for the teaching.