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Joseph Stella’s “Flowers,” which is owned by the Phoenix Art Museum.
Joseph Stella (American, born Italy, 1877-1946), “Purissima,” 1927, oil on canvas, 76 x 57inches, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Harriet and Elliott Goldstein and High Museum of Art Enhancement Fund, 2000.206. 

Joseph Stella’s “Flowers,” which is owned by the Phoenix Art Museum.
Joseph Stella (American, born Italy, 1877-1946), “Purissima,” 1927, oil on canvas, 76 x 57inches, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Harriet and Elliott Goldstein and High Museum of Art Enhancement Fund, 2000.206. 
The High Museum of Art will present the first major museum exhibition dedicated to the nature-based works of pioneering American modernist painter Joseph Stella.
The exhibit will feature more than 120 paintings and works on paper that reveal the breadth of the artist’s multi-faceted practice. Co-organized by the High and the Brandywine River Museum of Art, “Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” will debut at the Norton Museum of Art in October 2022 and will be on view at the High from Feb. 24 to May 21, 2023, before traveling to the Brandywine in June 2023.
Though Stella is primarily recognized for his dynamic Futurist-inspired paintings of New York, particularly of the Brooklyn Bridge, he was also compelled to express the powerful connection he felt to the natural world, a subject he pursued persistently throughout his career. “Visionary Nature” will present an overdue examination of the complexity and spirituality driving Stella’s nature-based works, illustrating the inspirations, sources and stylistic influences behind their creation.
“It’s our pleasure to collaborate with the Brandywine to organize the first exhibition that extensively explores this important aspect of Stella’s work, which spanned a range of subjects and challenged what was considered modernism in the early 20th century,” the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director Rand Suffolk said. “Stella’s 1927 ‘Purissima’ has long been a favorite of the High’s collection and is a strong example his nature-themed paintings. We look forward to providing an opportunity for visitors to further engage with this lesser-known side of Stella’s oeuvre and one of the highlights of the Museum’s collection.”
Born in southern Italy, Stella immigrated to New York in 1896. By 1913, he had established his reputation as a bold and innovative artist who conveyed the excitement of the city and modern life. In 1919, he turned away from more industrial subjects to focus on the powerful spiritual connection he felt with the natural world. His extended and impassioned embrace of nature as a subject offered spiritual renewal and respite from the visceral discomfort he experienced living in New York. These works hark back to the joy he felt in the light and open spaces of his native Italian countryside.
Although Stella’s critical success remained fused to his identity as a modernist painter of urban icons, by 1920, the natural world came to dominate his artistic pursuits. A prolific creator of lyrical and exuberant depictions of flowers, plants and birds, Stella saw mystery and purity in nature and explored it by combining realism and fantasy with a modernist aesthetic.
By focusing on his unique nature-based vocabulary and the context in which it developed, “Visionary Nature” will reconsider how this body of work relates to his career, revealing a surprising continuity between seemingly disparate subjects and exploring how these works are reflective of Stella’s passionate spirituality.
“Stella was considered a visionary, even among the most progressive artists of his day,” the High’s Margaret and Terry Stent curator of American art and lead exhibition curator Stephanie Heydt said. “Much of his emotional and spiritual life centered on his relationship with nature, and the exhibition offers the unique opportunity to revisit Stella through this lens. He was an incredible draughtsman, and his drawings rival those of the old masters, but he also delighted in experimentation. His style ranged from abstraction to realism to the archaic with such unexpected results.”
“Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the High and the Brandywine, featuring essays by Heydt; Ara H. Merjian, professor of Italian studies at New York University; Ellen E. Roberts, curator of American art at the Norton Museum of Art; and Karli Wurzelbacher, Heckscher Museum of Art curator; and an annotated chronology by Audrey Lewis, associate curator at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
The exhibition will be presented in the Cousins Special Exhibition Galleries on the Second Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion. For tickets, visit https://high.org/.

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