Florine Stettheimer, The Cathedrals of Art, 1942

The painting centers on the grand staircase at the Metropolitan Museum (with architecture and art from the MoMA and Whitney on the flanks) and is meant as a portrait of the New York art world in the 40’s. MoMA director Alfred Barr leans back in the chair on the MoMA side, Whitney director Juliana Force (in green with arms crossed) stands on the floor of the Whitney in front of golden statue of its founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and the Met’s director Francis Henry Taylor holds hands with a baby as they walk across the top of the Met staircase.

Critics and art dealers line the staircase; art critic Henry McBride holds two flags that read “Go” and “Stop,” while Alfred Stieglitz (gallery owner, photographer, and husband to Georgia O’Keefe) wears a black cape and strikes a dramatic pose on the staircase. Photographer George Platt Lynes takes pictures of a baby that Stettheimer called “Baby Art.” A Madonna-like figure adores the divine baby. There is a self-portrait of Stettheimer holding flowers at the bottom right. Art historian Linda Nochlin wrote that the painting “is not only a tribute to art but to New York’s art institutions and to the people who run them,” however, I tend to think that Stettheimer’s Baby Art and the melodramatic poses of some of the personalities are a subtle jab at the art world of the time.

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