Red Amaryllis

Joseph Stella, American (born Italy), 1877 - 1946

Made in United States, North and Central America

c. 1929

Watercolor and opaque watercolor over graphite on wove paper

Sheet: 31 x 22 3/8 inches (78.7 x 56.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Marion Boulton Stroud, 2003

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Joseph Stella’s life was peripatetic and his personality unpredictable. So also was his art, which ranged widely (and sometimes concurrently) from Realism, to Cubism and Futurism, to tinges of Surrealism seen in his bold studies of nature. Stella was first and foremost a prodigious draftsman and ardent colorist, talents that served as the foundation for the bizarre variety of his imagination and artistic output.

    In the second half of his career, after traveling to North Africa and Barbados, Stella created a striking series of paintings and works on paper inspired by the flowers and birds of the tropics. While many of the works were dark, mysterious fantasies, some were more direct studies from nature that nonetheless seem possessed by an almost surreal inner life. This life-size rendering of five huge amaryllis blossoms rising from three stems is such an example. Viewed close-up against an opaque, dark blue-black ground, the crisp contours of the blooms with their pointed tips are vibrating with life and appear to flicker and curl like flames. Flattened, decoratively arranged, and cut off at their bases, the green and blue leaves have a cooler but equally odd vitality.

    Although he was a friend of Marcel Duchamp and the collectors Louise and Walter Arensberg, Stella is not well represented in the Museum’s collection, which includes only a watercolor and a small painting on glass of 1914 and an important silverpoint self-portrait drawing from the 1920s. His wide variety of subjects and styles allows the Museum many directions in which to expand the representation of this important American modernist’s work. As a ravishing example of Stella’s renderings of tropical flowers, Red Amaryllis adds a new dimension to our holdings of his work and to the collection of American modernist works on paper as a whole. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 107.