“Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” provides a distinct perspective on the pioneering modernist with focus on an underexamined facet of his career
ATLANTA, Aug. 9, 2022 — This spring, the High Museum of Art will present the first major museum exhibition dedicated to the nature-based works of pioneering American modernist painter Joseph Stella (1877-1946), which will feature more than 120 paintings and works on paper that reveal the breadth of the artist’s multi-faceted practice. Co-organized by the High and the Brandywine River Museum of Art, “Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” will debut at the Norton Museum of Art in October 2022 and will be on view at the High from Feb. 24 to May 21, 2023, before traveling to the Brandywine in June 2023.
Though Stella is primarily recognized for his dynamic Futurist-inspired paintings of New York, particularly of the Brooklyn Bridge, he was also compelled to express the powerful connection he felt to the natural world, a subject he pursued persistently throughout his career. “Visionary Nature” will present an overdue examination of the complexity and spirituality driving Stella’s nature-based works, illustrating the inspirations, sources and stylistic influences behind their creation.
“It’s our pleasure to collaborate with the Brandywine to organize the first exhibition that extensively explores this important aspect of Stella’s work, which spanned a range of subjects and challenged what was considered modernism in the early 20th century,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director. “Stella’s 1927 ‘Purissima’ has long been a favorite of the High’s collection and is a strong example his nature-themed paintings. We look forward to providing an opportunity for visitors to further engage with this lesser-known side of Stella’s oeuvre and one of the highlights of the Museum’s collection.”
Born in southern Italy, Stella immigrated to New York in 1896. By 1913, he had established his reputation as a bold and innovative artist who conveyed the excitement of the city and modern life. In 1919, he turned away from more industrial subjects to focus on the powerful spiritual connection he felt with the natural world. His extended and impassioned embrace of nature as a subject offered spiritual renewal and respite from the visceral discomfort he experienced living in New York. These works hark back to the joy he felt in the light and open spaces of his native Italian countryside.
Although Stella’s critical success remained fused to his identity as a modernist painter of urban icons, by 1920, the natural world came to dominate his artistic pursuits. A prolific creator of lyrical and exuberant depictions of flowers, plants and birds, Stella saw mystery and purity in nature and explored it by combining realism and fantasy with a modernist aesthetic. By focusing on his unique nature-based vocabulary and the context in which it developed, “Visionary Nature” will reconsider how this body of work relates to his career, revealing a surprising continuity between seemingly disparate subjects and exploring how these works are reflective of Stella’s passionate spirituality.
“Stella was considered a visionary, even among the most progressive artists of his day,” said Stephanie Heydt, the High’s Margaret and Terry Stent curator of American art and lead exhibition curator. “Much of his emotional and spiritual life centered on his relationship with nature, and the exhibition offers the unique opportunity to revisit Stella through this lens. He was an incredible draughtsman, and his drawings rival those of the old masters, but he also delighted in experimentation. His style ranged from abstraction to realism to the archaic with such unexpected results.”
“Visionary Nature” begins with an introduction to Stella’s early industrial works, showcasing selections from his famous Brooklyn Bridge series that demonstrate his technical skill while revealing an evolving presence of nature as a persistent feature in his art. The exhibition continues with “The New Art,” a section focused on Stella’s experimentations following his discovery of modern art during a 1912 trip to Paris, ranging from prismatic Futurist paintings to playful Dada compositions in a variety of media. This section also includes several of Stella’s masterful silverpoint drawings of botanical and portrait studies.
Another section in the exhibition, “Italy: Origins,” features artworks from Stella’s frequent return visits to his homeland that demonstrate his continued exploration of his roots and of the places and themes that held meaning for him. These Italian-themed works are bright and light, filled with flora and fauna and layered in references to the spiritual and liturgical traditions he recalled from his youth. Additional galleries are dedicated to an extensive examination of Stella’s epic painting “Tree of My Life” (1919) and related works, studies of plants and flowers from his frequent visits to the New York Botanical Garden, his intimate still-life compositions, and artworks inspired by his 1937 trip to Barbados — a place that, like Italy, offered a refuge from modern city life and revived his spirits. The experience spurred a return to his beloved natural subjects, which remained his focus until his death in 1946.
“Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the High and the Brandywine, featuring essays by Heydt; Ara H. Merjian, professor of Italian studies at New York University; Ellen E. Roberts, curator of American art at the Norton Museum of Art; and Karli Wurzelbacher, Heckscher Museum of Art curator; and an annotated chronology by Audrey Lewis, associate curator at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
The exhibition will be presented in the Cousins Special Exhibition Galleries on the Second Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.
Exhibition Organization and Support
“Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” is co-organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
Lead sponsorship provided by
Major support for the exhibition catalogue is provided by
Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Andrew Wyeth Foundation for American Art; Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor Delta Airlines, Inc.; Premier Exhibition Series Supporters ACT Foundation, Inc., Sarah and Jim Kennedy, Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot, Harry Norman Realtors, and wish foundation; Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters Robin and Hilton Howell; Ambassador Exhibition Series Supporters The Antinori Foundation, Corporate Environments, The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation, and Elizabeth and Chris Willett; Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters Farideh and Al Azadi, Sandra and Dan Baldwin, Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer, Marcia and John Donnell, Mrs. Peggy Foreman, Helen C. Griffith, Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones, Joel Knox and Joan Marmo, Dr. Joe B. Massey, Margot and Danny McCaul, The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust, Wade A. Rakes II & Nicholas Miller, The Fred and Rita Richman Fund, USI Insurance Services, and Mrs. Harriet H. Warren; Generous support is also provided by Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.
About the High Museum of Art
Located in the heart of Atlanta, the High Museum of Art connects with audiences from across the Southeast and around the world through its distinguished collection, dynamic schedule of special exhibitions and engaging community-focused programs. Housed within facilities designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, the High features a collection of more than 18,000 works of art, including an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American fine and decorative arts; major holdings of photography and folk and self-taught work, especially that of artists from the American South; burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, including paintings, sculpture, new media and design; a growing collection of African art, with work dating from prehistory through the present; and significant holdings of European paintings and works on paper. The High is dedicated to reflecting the diversity of its communities and offering a variety of exhibitions and educational programs that engage visitors with the world of art, the lives of artists and the creative process. For more information about the High, visit www.high.org.
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