Rapt attention

Monday, May 6, 2024

Rolf Stoll


This is a painting by Rolf Stoll (1892-1978). Stoll was a German American artist who was a major figure in the Cleveland School in the twenties through the forties. It is a large work, 40 x 44".

I sold this painting eleven years ago, to a woman in Santa Barbara, for a good sum of money. I think it is one of the most powerful paintings I have ever sold. 

Why? There are several reasons. There are various narratives at work here; there is a master servant relationship, notice the patrician figure with the pearls being served by a dark skinned maidservant with a fertility symbol on the necklace around her neck and a bowl of fruit that suggests fecundity. Let's call this the classist dyad. There is also an obvious underlying racial and miscegenation component that leads one to wonder about the fact that they are both naked and the possibility of a sapphic sexual relationship that might exist between the two figures of varying shades.

All of these dueling narratives create a lot of dynamic tension yet the piece is rendered in a classical, renaissance manner that softens it and makes it extremely charming to me.

Stoll did some very provocative work but this might be his best, or at least it is to my eye. Reminds me of George Tooker a bit. Tooker meets Caravaggio.

In any case, the woman is downsizing and wants to sell it back and I agreed instantly. 

I love the canvas and always wanted to see it again.

I talked to a major curator about the painting last week and he was hesitant. And also talked to a big shot art wheeler dealer today who also was nervous about it. Why, I asked? The first man said the painting was very loaded, whatever that means.

What the man said today floored me. He said that museums might be reluctant to have the painting because a possibly straight man painted a canvas depicting a pair of nude women who might be gay and that is deemed appropriation by today's standards.

Seriously? Has it come to that? Are we in an age where only women can now paint nude women? Has the woken generation fixed its perfect millennial eye on the artistic masters of the past and will Picasso and Lautrec now be forever banished to the locker room for their sins and perfidy?

I have a client who is interested in the work, I am not really sweating it. I just find the colloquy quite disheartening and grotesque. Perhaps I should have seen it coming.

I predict that a very strong person will end up with this painting. It would not be a good fit for the intellectually weak psyche.

A brief bio on Stoll from AskArt courtesy of Spanierman Gallery LLC:

Rolf Stoll was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1892.  As a boy, he attended a military academy, during which time he developed an interest in art. He received his early formal training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart.  He emigrated to the United States in 1912, settling in New York City.  A decade later, after studying at the school of the National Academy of Design and supporting himself by working as a commercial artist, Stoll decided to leave New York. Upon the recommendation of Warren Pryor, one of his teachers, he decided to move to Cleveland, Ohio.

After arriving in Cleveland, Rolf Stoll continued to work as a commercial artist.  However, in 1926, he joined the faculty of the Cleveland School of Art, where he taught drawing.  Two years later Stoll was appointed head of the school's portrait painting department.  A talented portraitist, Stoll's sitters included industrialists, community leaders and many prominent members of Cleveland and Ohio society, as well as over twenty faculty members from Case Western Reserve University.  Stoll also gave portrait classes at the John Huntington Polytechnic Institute from 1926 to 1953.  In his male portraits especially, he was admired for his ability to convey the dignity of his sitter's professional position without sacrificing individuality.  As noted by one contemporary reviewer, Stoll was a "master of rich color, a searching student of human types, a forceful portrayer of all that the face reveals of the mind and the soul." [1]

In addition to his activity as a portraitist, Rolf Stoll painted figure subjects and floral still lifes.  He was also known for his views of the Ohio countryside and Canada.  Stoll also painted views of Spain and depictions of Spanish peasants, inspired by an extended trip to that country (1926), during which time he was entertained by the famous Spanish portrait painter, Ignacio Zuloaga.  Moving easily between oil and watercolor, Stoll worked in an direct realist style, combining his characteristic firm draftsmanship with the use of simplified forms and decorative color.

Rolph Stoll was a member of the Cleveland Society of Artists, the Cleveland Print Club and the Kokoon Art Club.  He exhibited his work widely throughout the United States and was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes.  Stoll also had important solo exhibitions at the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts (1928) and at the Cleveland School of Art (1927, 1936, 1943).  Following his retirement from the Cleveland School of Art in 1957, Stoll moved to Lake Worth, Florida, where he painted depictions of flowers and fruit until his eyesight failed.  He died there on 19 November 1978.

Representative examples of Stoll's work can be found in major public and private collections throughout the Midwest, including the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Dayton Art Institute; the Toledo Museum of Art; the Nebraska Arts Association; and the Columbus Museum.  Stoll also produced a number of murals including a WPA (Works Progress Administration) for the United States Post Office in East Palestine, Ohio.


Blue Heron said...

Lord hep us...."loaded"..."unacceptable by today's standards" (which seem to be standards from the Dark Ages more and more...)


Jon Harwood said...

Lord have mercy! It sure does give me a headache when PAST artwork is subjected to NEW standards that didn't exist when the work was created. Getting all prissy about the standards of the past will not change the past or help the future.

Liz said...

It is gorgeous. I wish I had it on my wall.

Incidentally, as an omnisexual woman, I do not feel there are any problems with it.

Kent said...

Will I have to take out a 2nd to afford ?