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Arts Playlist: Previewing “Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” at the Brandywine Museum of Art

Flowers, Italy, 1931 (oil on canvas) by Joseph Stella (1877-1946).
Bridgeman Images
Flowers, Italy, 1931 (oil on canvas) by Joseph Stella (1877-1946).

The Brandywine Museum of Art is set to present the first major museum exhibition dedicated to the nature-based works of pioneering American modernist painter Joseph Stella.

“Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” will feature more than 80 paintings and works on paper, showcasing Stella’s unique artistic traits and how he captured the spiritual qualities he felt in nature.

In this edition of Arts Playlist, Delaware Public Media’s Karl Lengel sat down with Brandywine Museum of Art curator Audrey Lewis to learn more about the exhibit and Joseph Stella’s indelible work.

Delaware Public Media’s Karl Lengel previews the Brandywine Museum of Art's “Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” exhibit

The Brandywine Museum of Art welcomes a touring exhibit of American Modernist Joseph Stella on June 17th. The exhibit will run through September.

Prominent among his early 20th century peers, Joseph Stella’s diverse Modernist work spanned natural and man-made subjects across islands and continents.

Born in the southern Italian mountain village of Muro Lucano in 1877, Stella immigrated to New York in 1896 when he was 18-years-old. He briefly attended medical school before studying art with American painter William Merritt Chase at the New York School of Art and the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, from 1898 through 1901. In 1909, he traveled back to his birthplace for the first of many visits.

Exposed to the artistic strategies of Cubism, Futurism and Dada art while traveling in Europe, he led American development of the movements. In 1913, his work was celebrated alongside that of major Europeans such as Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp in the landmark Armory Show in New York, the exhibition that is widely held to have launched modern art in America. Stella is known for his Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island series during this time period.

 Joseph Stella, Purissima (oil on canvas), 1927.
James Schoomaker
The High Museum of Art
Joseph Stella, Purissima (oil on canvas), 1927.

A yearning to seek out more natural subjects was enriched with a 1919 return to his birthplace in Italy. His “Tree of My Life” reflects his shift to flora and fauna.

Audrey Lewis, Associate Curator at the Brandywine Museum of Art, notes that “He began to branch out in terms of his subject matter and medium, as well. He turned to silverpoint, which is a medium that really began in the Renaissance Era. He was, in a sense, going back in time and looking at old masters and adapting it to a modern tradition.”

Stella felt a strong spiritual tie to natural subjects and is credited with successfully blending mysticism and realism in his later works, including his Madonna series. Trips to Barbados and Africa enriched his use of colors. Throughout the remainder of his life, despite an accidental fall in an elevator shaft and illness, he continued to create new works and experiment in new media until his death in 1946.

The expansive exhibit of Stella’s work coming to the Brandywine is called Visionary Nature, and it features more than 80 paintings and works on paper. The show is part of a national tour that included recent stays in West Palm Beach and Atlanta.

Lewis believes that “ will be exciting, I think people will respond to this being in the summer – it will be a very exciting way to spend a day – it is a very positive, joyful, exuberant exhibition.”

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Karl Lengel has worked in the lively arts as an actor, announcer, manager, director, administrator and teacher. In broadcast, he has accumulated three decades of on-air experience, most recently in New Orleans as WWNO’s anchor for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and a host for the broadcast/podcast “Louisiana Considered”.
Kyle McKinnon is a producer for The Green with a passion for storytelling and connecting with people.