Above, “Blue Nude,” Henri Matisse, 1907
Emma Dumpke Daschel, February 1914
February 15, 1914
My dearest Hedda,
You must have your ostrich plumes arranged atop a hat exactly like this one on the cover of “The Saturday Evening Post” I am enclosing. You would stand out among all strolling through Central Park on a Sunday afternoon.
I believe Mr. K, however, is teasing you by parsimoniously doling out one ostrich feather at a time for you to save for a hat. He owns most of Hot Sulphur Wells. With ostrich races there every weekend, surely you realize he can obtain as many plumes as he wants anytime at no charge – as though money were an obstacle for the millionaire.
I beg you once again to not fall prey to his charms. He has incredible gall comparing himself to an ostrich mating for life.
Perhaps you have yet to see the angry venom that spews forth from him if you displease him in the slightest way. He cannot control his violent temper. Perhaps this is how he resembles an ostrich. They say one encountered in the wild is as fierce as a lion. Even Teddy Roosevelt claims the only defense against an attacking ostrich is to play dead.
Do not let yourself be hoodwinked. I truly believe Otto dangerous.
I am changing topics before you tear up this letter. I have no desire to antagonize my dearest friend. Please read on.
There is great excitement throughout the city over the mammoth-size exhibition at the Armory. At first Heinrich would have no part of it. As more of his fellow teachers heatedly debated its merits, his interest was aroused. Always more of a book-lover than a lover of art, he thought he would be branded boorish if he attended it and was not enthralled.
Heinrich now recognizes this show truly represents a revolution – for better or worse – in the art world. Interestingly, even the majority of art critics dislike the contents. Most headlines about the exhibition employ terms of war, as though it were “a bomb” dropped in the midst of New York City by “lunatics.” The Armory is the topic on everyone’s lips as they struggle whether to label it art or junk. Wanamaker’s even installed “cubist” fashions in its windows, although I have yet to encounter anyone wearing such unattractive garb in the streets.
I am still reeling from my first exposure to the exhibition. It is absolutely too overwhelming to view all 1,200 works by 300 European and American artists, not only because of the sheer number of works displayed, but because of how their boldness abruptly slaps you in the face. I am far less adventurous than you in my tastes and sadly must confess that it makes me long for the safe refuge offered by the classical works we used to wander amongst in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum.
The beauty of the classical nude has been left far behind by these artists. The most controversial works are by the French, of course. The staircase is quite easy to recognize as such in Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending the Staircase,” but what I presume to be the nude could not be deciphered as such were it not for the title. “She,” I presume, is brutally chopped up into a mass of unappealing angular shapes.
Henri Matisse’s “Blue Nude” is crude and not something I think should be hung in public. I found myself blushing when faced by an American painter’s life-size “Figure in Motion,” and the women painters are no less timid. A Miss McEnery depicts a calm, seated woman reading a book with her breasts fully exposed and titles it “American Dream.” Have you known anyone to sit around and read in such a state of undress?
This weekend I borrowed a copy of Sir Gilbert Parker’s “The Judgment House.” Does your Carnegie Library have it yet? I do so miss our long book discussions.
Please reconsider returning to New York. You can stay with us as long as you need, but I assure you that someone with your skills will not be lacking employment. Pack your belongings and leave that “ostrich” far behind.
Your friend always,
The Author continues the confusing habit of arbitrarily moving actual events around to suit her own timeline. Reform is unlikely. The controversial Armory Show, or the International Exhibition of Modern Art, was exhibited in New York City between February 17 and March 15, 1913, before moving on to Chicago and Boston. She did not want you to miss it and found it amusing to shape characters by reactions to it.