Threads of Jewish identity in salon culture: Rahel Varnhagen and Florine Stettheimer
thesisposted on 22.05.2021, 09:57 by Rachel Frohlich
Florine Stettheimer's painting Soiree (1917-19), which serves as the frontispiece to this essay, depicts what may be considered a self-portrait of sorts: a scene representing a social gathering at the Stettheimer salon on the Upper West Side. As depicted in the painting, habitues of differing social, political and artistic backgrounds have come together to socialize with other artists, enjoy the food displayed in the foreground, and view the new work painted by their hostess; in fact, Florine herself is represented in the nude in a large canvas in the centre of the painting with the guests delicately turning their backs to the painting. This ironic painting of a live salon scene at the Stettheimers allows viewers a glimpse into a social, cultural, and artistic institution that has remained somewhat under researched in the ways in which it defies some of the rules of mainstream society. Sociability, evoked in the epigraph, was also the focus of Rachel Varnhagen's early nineteenth-century salon in Berlin, a space in which racial and gender boundaries were crossed. Located in the private domestic space of somebody's home, the salon was an influential social institution and a vehicle that ultimately empowered women as this essay will document by exploring Rahel Varnhagen and Florine Stettheimer's important careers as salonieres. As this essay will argue, the salon especially empowered doubly marginalized Jewish women and allowed them to overcome limitations of the traditional roles considered appropriate for Jewish women who were able to claim strong intellectual, social, and artistic identities by using the salon as their vehicle.