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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Joseph Stella, American, 1877-1946

Dying Lotus
About 1930-32
Pastel, colored crayon, metalpoint (probably silverpoint), and possibly graphite over an artist-prepared ground on wove paper
Gift of Helen Farr Sloan; D.952.133


Although best known as America’s foremost futurist painter, Italian- born Joseph Stella was also an indefatigable draftsman who produced a large and diverse body of works on paper throughout his career, including preparatory drawings for his paintings as well as independent works in charcoal, silverpoint, crayon, and pastel. Flowers, which appeared in his paintings beginning around 1919, became a truly predominant theme in his drawings, reflecting his profound fascination with the subject. Aside from their cheering visual appeal, flowers served as an expressive vehicle for Stella’s deeply held, often conflicting personal passions: his sensual nature and his drive for spiritual transcendence. Stella was no doubt aware of the significance of the lotus, the subject of this work, in the context of diverse cultures and religious traditions, from ancient Egypt to Buddhist and Hindu India. The lotus has been associated variously with the resurgence of life, fertility, enlightenment, the sun, and purity. Here we look down into the tilted blossom, which reveals its luminous yellow stamen—the pollen-producing male organ of the specimen—thereby allowing a sensual reading as well. Stella magnifies the blossom’s importance and visual impact by nearly filling the sheet with its cupped petals, which twist and arch upward, set against the rich blues he so often favored. Stella noted over the years his positive associations with the color blue, which for him signified serenity, the heavens, and “the pure blue of the Dawn of our life.” Here he used it to describe what is likely an Iranian porcelain bowl while manipulating it more suggestively in the background, where it conveys the sense of an energized aura radiating from the splayed petals. Despite the apparent vigor of the cut blossom, the inscription on the reverse provides the title Dying Lotus, which foretells the inevitable.

Last Updated: 4/29/09