About This Artwork

Florine Stettheimer
American, 1871–1944

Portrait of Virgil Thomson, 1930

Oil, and possibly ink, on canvas
97.8 x 51.1 cm (38 1/2 x 20 1/8 in.)
Signed and dated “FLORINE ST.” “1930” within the body of the painting

Gift of Virgil Thomson, 1975.677

After meeting Florine Stettheimer in 1929, the composer Virgil Thomson asked the painter to design the sets and costumes for Four Saints in Three Acts, an opera with a libretto by Gertrude Stein. This painting, in a frame designed by Stettheimer, commemorates the collaboration. The portrait has a fantastic, almost mystical quality, with Thomson shown at the piano, his face tilted upward as if he is in a state of religious ecstasy. Banners juxtapose the names of two saints from the opera, Teresa of Ávila and Ignatius of Loyola, with those of Stein, Stettheimer, and Thomson. Yet the artist inscribed her own name as “Florine St.,” a witty reversal that acts as an abbreviated signature.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Forum, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y., New York No-Jury Exhibition Salons of America, Inc., April 9-May 6, 1934, supp. cat. 3771a.

Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Mass., A Composer's Collection: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture Owned by Virgil Thomson, February 12–March 12, 1967, n.p., cat. 21, not ill.

Arts Club of Chicago, Sixty Years on the Arts Club Stage: A Souvenir Exhibition of Portraits, November 17, 1975–January 3, 1976, p. 60, cat. 110.

Publication History

Henry McBride, Florine Stettheimer, exh. cat. (Museum of Modern Art, 1946), p. 43.

Parker Tyler, Florine Stettheimer: A Life in Art (Farrar, Straus & Company, 1963), pp. 51–52, 55–58, 72–73, 83, opp. p. 83 (ill.), 112.

Virgil Thomson, Virgil Thomson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 136.

David Harris, “The Original Four Saints in Three Acts,” The Drama Review, 26, no. 1 (Spring 1982), pp. 106–07.

Barbara J. Bloemink, Friends and Family: Portraiture in the World of Florine Stettheimer, exh. cat. (Katonah Museum of Art, 1993), p. 16.

Renate Stendhal, ed. Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures: A Photobiography (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994), p. 153 (ill.).

Barbara J. Bloemink, The Life and Art of Florine Stettheimer (Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 188, 190–91, 198, fig. 108.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture, selected by James N. Wood and Teri J. Edelstein (Art Institute of Chicago, 1996), p. 62 (ill.).

Steven Watson, Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism (New York: Random House, 1998), pp. 164, 169-171 (ill.).

Judith A. Barter et al., "American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago, From World War I to 1955," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 76.

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 112.

Ownership History

The artist, to at least 1934; Virgil Thomson, New York, N.Y., by 1963; given by him to the Art Institute of Chicago, 1975.

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