Lisa N. Peters
With the loan of works by Edith Prellwitz (1864-1944) and contemporary artist Ty Stroudsburg, Spanierman Gallery is pleased to take part in Long Island in Bloom, an exhibition on view at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, New York, through July 8. Coinciding with Long Island’s blooming season, the show draws from the long and extensive roster of artists who worked on Long Island through the generations and depicted flowers—those growing in the open air as well as those brought indoors.
Edith Prellwitz, whose Peconic home with her husband Henry overlooked the Long Island Sound, often painted flowers in her light-filled studio. In Vase of Peonies and Roses, she created suggestive, lyrical still lifes. Rendered with a loose, expressive brushwork, Roses (left) conveys vulnerability. The white flowers come forward in the dark space, yet the blossoms seem reluctant in the way that their petals are indistinct, as if they are being viewed through a tinted glass. In Vase of Peonies (right), the flowers project more confidence, their energy accentuated by the circular shape of a mirror or molding behind them. The tonal harmonies in these paintings are in the mode of Whistler, while Prellwitz’s painterly handling reflects her studies with William Merritt Chase. In Among the Roses (above), Prellwitz depicted a female figure stretched out on the ground in a classicized gown within a rose bower. The depiction of such lithe women in flowing robes ensconced in flowers represented a realm of aesthetic otherworldliness that transcended the abrasive nature of urban and industrialized environments. At the same time, the subject raises her gaze from her book as if to demonstrate her active, independent mind, which would certainly have characterized the strong-willed, quietly rebellious nature of the artist. The figure’s horizontal is paralleled in the work’s format, the closed-in space perhaps having a symbolic connotation with respect to the hemmed-in nature of women’s lives in Prellwitz’s time—this was a topic that she railed about in her diaries.
Representing a generation of women artists that Prellwitz could not have imagined, Ty Stroudsburg, who lives in Southold, creates images of shimmering floral landscapes that exude a feeling of freedom. Both in the depiction of flowers in such profusion that the landscape seems almost swallowed up by them, and in the way that elements of nature seamlessly fuse into pure color and shape, Stroudsburg’s paintings convey a sense of expansive, uninhibited possibilities and choices.
Beyond the obvious appeal of their beauty, flowers have often been the conveyors of feeling and thought, as these works and so many others, suggest.