Joseph Stella 1877 —1946


Joseph Stella, one of America’s foremost modernist painters, was born in Muro Lucano, near Naples, Italy in 1877.  At the age of nineteen, he immigrated to New York City.  He initiated his formal training at the Art Students League, studying there during 1897.  In the following year he enrolled in classes at the New York School of Art, where he was taught by William Merritt Chase. 

From 1905 to 1906, Stella supported himself by working as a magazine illustrator.  His work from this period consisted of dark, grimly realistic drawings depicting aspects of the coal and steel industry in Pittsburgh.  In 1909, he traveled to Europe where, for the next three years he immersed himself in the avant-garde art of Italy and France, notably futurism, cubism and the work of Paul Cezanne.  Returning to the United States, he began to paint colorful, semi-abstract figure and still-life studies.  He also took part in the Armory Show of 1913, which served to further strengthen his commitment to advanced European tendencies.  Soon after this, his iconography became strongly influenced by industrial-age America.  In such major works as Battle of Lights, Coney Island, (1913; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), he rendered the noise, speed and dynamism of the urban American environment in large, high-keyed, futurist-inspired canvases.  He later produced a series of pictures in which he portrayed the rhythms and monumental verticality of New York City in a similar mode, such as his Brooklyn Bridge of 1919 (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut).  In the mid-1920’s, Stella painted in a more representational yet distinctly primitive style, often imbuing his works with religious or sexual symbolism.

Joseph Stella died in 1946.  A prolific artist, he exhibited his oeuvre widely and held memberships in both the Societe Anonyme and the Modern Artists of America.  As one of the first American artists to adopt the futurist aesthetic, he created many works that stand as major landmarks of modernism in the United States.  In addition to Yale University, his paintings can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and 40 other Museums including the Musee Nationale in Paris.   Joseph Stella’s work is represented in over 250 books on American Art including 6 monographs.

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