Joseph Stella

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Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella, 1919-20

Joseph Stella (June 13, 1877June 11, 1946) was an Italian-born American Futurist painter best known for his depictions of industrial America.


  • At my arrival [in Paris], Fauvism. Cubism, and Futurism were in full swing. There was in the air the glamour of a battle, the holy battle raging for the assertion of a new truth. My youth plunged full in it.
    • Joseph Stella (1911); Quoted in: Judith Zilczer (1983) Joseph Stella: : The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Collection, p. 10
  • There was in the air the glamor of a battle, the holy battle raging for the assertion of a new truth. My youth plunged full in it.
    • Joseph Stella (1911); Quoted in: Ruth L. Bohan. Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920, (2006). p. 193
  • I was thrilled to find America so rich with so many new motives to be translated into a new art. Steel and electricity had created a new world. A new drama had surged from the unmerciful violation of darkness at night, by the violent blaze of electricity and a new polyphony was ringing all around with the scintillating, highly colored lights. The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes and expanded to vast latitudes with the skyscrapers and with bridges made for the conjunction of worlds. A new architecture was created, a new perspective.
    • Joseph Stella (1912); As cited in: Metropolitan Museum of Art (1965) American Painting in the Twentieth Century. p. 69
  • To realize this towering imperative vision in all its integral possibilities... I lived days of anxiety, torture, and delight alike, trembling all over with emotion as those railing[s] in the midst of the bridge vibrating at the continuous passage of the trains. I appealed for help to the soaring verse of Walt Whitman and to the fiery Poe’s plasticity. Upon the swarming darkness of the night, I rung all the bells of alarm with the blaze of electricity scattered in lightnings down the oblique cables, the dynamic pillars of my composition, and to render more pungent the mystery of the metallic apparition, through the green and red glare of the signals I excavated here and there caves as subterranean passages to infernal recesses.

"The Brooklyn Bridge (A page of my life)," 1929[edit]

"The Brooklyn Bridge (A page of my life)," in: Eugène Jolas (1929) Transition. nr. 15-17 (1929)

  • During the last years of the war I went to live in BROOKLYN in the most forlorn region of the oceanic tragic city, in Williamsburg, near the bridge. Brooklyn gave me a sense of liberation. The vast view of her sky, in opposition to the narrow one of NEW YORK, was a relief — and at night, in her solitude, I used to find, intact, the green freedom of my own self.
    • p. 86
  • Opposite my studio a huge factory — its black walls scarred with red stigmas of mysterious battles — was towering with the gloom of a prison. At night fires gave to innumerable windows menacing blazing looks of demons — while at other times vivid blue-green lights rang sharply in harmony with the radiant yellow-green alertness of cats enjewelling the obscurity around.
    • p. 87
  • Many nights I stood on the bridge — and in the middle alone — lost — a defenseless prey to the surrounding swarming darkness — crushed by the mountainous black impenetrability of the skyscrapers — here and there lights resembling suspended falls of astral bodies or fantastic splendors of remote rites — shaken by the underground tumult of the trains in perpetual motion, like blood in the arteries—at times, ringing as alarm in a tempest, the shrill sulphurous voice of the trolley wires — now and then strange moanings of appeal from tugboats, guessed more than seen, through the infernal recesses below — I felt deeply moved, as if on the threshold of a new religion or in the presence of a new DIVINITY.
  • p. 88; Cited in: Beth Venn, Adam D. Weinberg. Frames of Reference: Looking at American Art, 1900-1950 : Works from the Whitney Museum of American Art. University of California Press, 1999. p. 123

Quotes about Joseph Stella[edit]

  • To Joseph Stella and other progressive artists of the early twentieth century, the timeworn conventions of European painting seemed powerless to convey the dynamism of modern life. An Italian immigrant, Stella arrived in New York City at a time of unprecedented urban growth and social change in America. He first encountered the new approaches of modernist painting on a trip to Paris and took particular interest in Futurism, an Italian movement that claimed to be “violently revolutionary” in its opposition to the traditions that had prevailed in art ever since the Renaissance. Upon returning to the United States, Stella himself converted to Futurism, convinced that only its new vision of reality could capture the complexities of the machine age

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