Frances Simpson Stevens

Frances Simpson Stevens was born in Chicago, IL on March 5, 1984 (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 106). Today, only one of her paintings is preserved; however, in her early 20s Stevens was the lone American at the center of the Futurist movement (Naumann 105). Though a majority of her work has been lost, her influence on Futurism in Italy and Modernism in the United States remains.

The first child of Ellen Hubbard and Samuel Stevens, Francis Simpson Stevens belonged to an old, prominent family, and studied at the Dana Hall School, a boarding school in Wellesley, Massachusetts (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 106). As a student, Stevens was involved in art, sports, and the French club on campus (Dana Hall School). The school traditionally prepared girls to attend Wellesley College; however, after graduation, Stevens moved to New York to live with her mother and stepfather and pursue art (Dana Hall School, Günter 230).

At 18, Stevens began to take classes with the American artist Robert Henri (Günter 230). While studying with Henri in Madrid, Stevens painted Roof Tops of Madrid, which marked the beginning of her career (Naumann 105, Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 107). Revealing her confident drive, Stevens submitted the work to the Armory Show in New York; it was accepted and exhibited alongside Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, which became the subject of furious debate following the show (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 107).

At the Armory Show, Stevens became acquainted with Mabel Dodge, the wealthy writer and art curator who lead a salon and was close friends with Mina Loy (Dana Hall School, Burke 150-151). It was Dodge who, knowing Loy needed some extra money, suggested Stevens rent a studio space from Loy in Italy (Burke 150-151). Taking in a young artist and mentoring her was a good way to find financial stability without jeopardizing status or reputation; Loy herself had studied for a year in Germany, mentored by the Baroness (Burke 150-151).

In 1913, before her 20th birthday, Stevens traveled alone to Italy, where she moved in with Loy. Stevens and Loy balanced each other well and pushed each other artistically (Burke 151). Stevens was young, confident, and emboldened by the Italian Futurists; her energy inspired Loy to create a number of new and different artistic works (Burke 151). Both Stevens and Loy were tall, beautiful, and intent on defying the roles they were supposedly confined to as women (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 107).

In Italy, Stevens met and began to study from the leader of the Italian Futurists, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 107). In 1914, she showed eight pieces in Rome at the Esposizione Libera Futurista Internazionale, or the International Exhibition of Futurism (Dana Hall School, Naumann 105). Her work received significant praise, and she stood out as the only North American in the exhibit (Dana Hall School). As her career progressed, Stevens became deeper enthralled with the dynamism and machinery that defined Futurist art; she began experimenting with color and thick texture in her work, depicting new technologies whirring abstractly (Naumann 106-107).

At the beginning of World War I, Stevens returned to New York and became involved with New York avant-garde movements including Dadaism (Dana Hall School, Philadelphia Museum of Art). She continued to exhibit work and share what she learned from the Futurists in Italy. Stevens’s only remaining work, Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station (1915), which she painted in the Futurist style after returning to New York, has belonged to the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection since it was painted (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 106).

 

Name: Frances Simpson Stevens

Date of Birth: March 5, 1894 (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 106)

Place of Birth: Chicago, IL

Date of Death: July 18, 1976 (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 115)

Place of Death: Santa Rosa, California

Country of origin, citizenship: United States

Gender: Female

Race: White

Kind of Artist/Cultural worker: Painter

Address in Florence or New York:

157 West 79th St. New York, NY (Naumann 105). Lived in Florence, Italy for a year with Mina Loy in 1914 before returning to New York at the beginning of World War I.

Dates & Places of Overlap with Loy: Lived with Mina Loy for a year in Italy (1913-1914)

Avant-garde movements the figure was associated with: Futurism and Dadaism

Brief summary of the figure’s Biographical/Historical significance:

Stevens is the American most associated with the Italian Futurists. Her art was featured at the famous Armory Show in 1913 and, though only one painting has been preserved, it influenced not only Futurism but also Modernism in the United States (Naumann 105). Upon her return to New York, Stevens continued to incorporate her love of motion and machinery—which she learned in Italy—in her work, introducing it to the Dadaists (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Brief summary of the figure’s Relationship to Loy:

Steven’s rented a studio space from Loy in Italy as a young, developing artist interested in learning from and becoming involved with the Italian Futurists. Through Stevens, Loy met Marinetti and the community of Futurists in Italy. Together, Stevens and Loy studied the Futurist Manifesto and created their own, Futurist style (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 107).

What was the nature of their overlap or connection? Was it social, literary, artistic? Were they involved in collaborative ventures (publications, exhibitions, performances, readings)?

Stevens and Loy’s relationship was mostly social, in that they lived together; however, the two female artists also explored Futurism together and learned from each other. There was a level of mentorship on both sides. Loy was older and took Stevens in as a tenant because she wanted to help a young artist starting out in a new country; however, it was Stevens who became interested in Futurism and introduced Loy to the community of Futurist artists in Italy which shaped both of their careers.

What other artists/writers did your figure come in contact with?

Robert Henri, Mabel Dodge, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Carlo Carra, Ardengo Soffici, Giuseppe Sprovieri, Alfred Stieglitz

Works Cited:

Berghaus, Günter. International Futurism in Arts and Literature. De Gruyter, 2000. European

Cultures. EBSCOhost. Web.

Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. 1st ed., New York, Farrar, Straus,

and Giroux, 1996. Print.

Burke, Carolyn and Naomi Sawelson-Gorse. “In Search of Frances Simpson Stevens.” Art in

     America, 82.4 (1994): 106-115. Print.

“Frances Simpson Stevens 1911 (1894-1976).” Helen Temple Cooke Library, Dana Hall School,

16 Sept. 2011.

Naumann, Francis M. “A Lost American Futurist.” Art in America, 82.4 (1994): 104-113. Print.

 

Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station.”

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4 Comments on “Frances Simpson Stevens”

  1. Excellent, lucid, and well researched summary of her life. The intro is a bit confusing, but after that the narrative takes a clear shape. I’m left wondering what happened to her and all her art. It’s as if your narrative makes her disappear, much in the way the histories do! Any idea what happened? What was the reception of her work? Did she ever marry or have children? When did she die, where, and how? You’ve certainly raised my interest level in her!

  2. Sarah — you did a great job bringing Stevens to life here! You bring in descriptive phrases very naturally, so I feel like I’ve got a sense for her personality without the biography ever feeling overdone. I left a few other “big idea” questions in the Hypothes.is notes (I tend to be a tough editor, sorry!). My main point for revisions is to take the sense of urgency/ historical importance I read in your introduction and spread it throughout the piece, maybe ending with a bigger conclusion or splicing more big-picture statements throughout. Really great work!

  3. Sarah! Excellent, well-researched biography (I love learning little things like the fact that she was in French Club in high school!) I have a couple veins of inquiry that you may want to pursue but, again, incredible detail! First, I am curious about her choice not to attend Wellesley. Did any of your sources delve into the subject of her education further? The only other suggestion I have is maybe including some information about how her work embodied/represented the principles of Futurism and Dadaism.

    P.S. I know you are very artistic, are there any descriptions of her work that would allow someone (perhaps you!?) to recreate it?

  4. hey Sarah! This is a really great, super interesting piece. I especially love how it shows off the dynamics of the avant-garde artist community, how all of these prolific figures worked with, learned from, and inspired each other. I always admire writers who can deftly show off something really important without it actually being their subject, and I love that your bio gives me a sense of their whole world through the Stevens lens. I do think there are some places where you could add a little bit more detail or unpack some statements, that I’ve noted in my hypothes.is annotations, but this is really wonderful.

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