Frances Simpson Stevens
March 5, 1894, Chicago, IL
July 18, 1976, Santa Rosa, California
Country of Origin/Citizenship
157 West 79th St. New York, NY (Naumann, p. 105). Lived in Florence, Italy for a year with Mina Loy in 1914 before returning to New York at the beginning of World War I.
Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker
Avant-Garde Movements Associated With
Futurism and Dadaism
Date & Places of Overlap with Loy
Lived with Mina Loy for a year in Italy (1913-1914)
In her early 20s, Frances Simpson Stevens was the lone American at the center of the Futurist movement. Today, however, only one of her paintings has been preserved and few people know her name.
Stevens was born into an old, prominent family in Chicago. She studied at the Dana Hall School, a boarding school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, which traditionally prepared girls to attend Wellesley College; however, after graduation Stevens moved to New York to pursue art. At 18, Stevens started taking classes with the American artist Robert Henri.
While studying with Henri in Madrid, Stevens painted Roof Tops of Madrid and submitted the work to the 1913 Armory Show in New York. It was accepted, and she exhibited alongside Marcel Duchamp and other avant-garde artists. At the Show, Stevens met Mabel Dodge, an art curator, salon leader, and close friend of Mina Loy. Knowing Loy needed extra money, Dodge suggested Stevens rent a studio space from Loy in Italy.
In 1913, Stevens moved in with Loy. The two became friends and pushed each other artistically. Stevens’s youthful energy inspired Loy to create new works of visual art and poetry. Together they were a striking pair, and attracted significant attention from men. Loy’s dark hair and sophisticated style complemented Stevens’s blonde hair and youthful spirit. Stevens and Loy were intent, however, on defying the roles to which they were confined as women. Together they used art to grapple with issues surrounding gender.
In Italy, Stevens studied under the leader of the Italian Futurists, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Through Stevens, Loy met Marinetti and the community of Futurists in Italy. Together, Stevens and Loy studied the Futurist Manifesto and created their own Futurist style (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 107). In 1914, Stevens showed eight pieces in Rome at the International Exhibition of Futurism. Her work received significant praise, and she stood out as the only North American in the exhibit. As her career progressed, Stevens became enthralled with the mechanical dynamism that defined Futurist art; she experimented with color and thick texture in her work, depicting through abstraction the movement of new technologies. Sadly, the majority of her work has been lost.
At the beginning of World War I, Stevens returned to New York and became involved with American avant-garde movements. She continued to exhibit work and shared what she learned from the Futurists in Italy. Stevens’s only remaining work, Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station, has been in the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection since she painted it in 1915.
While volunteering with the American Red Cross during World War I, Stevens met Russian ambassador, Prince Dimitri Golitsyn. The two married in 1919, and moved to Siberia to oppose the Bolshevik government. Eventually, Stevens returned to the United States. She continued with art, but only showed her work in one final show. Instead, Stevens found passion surrounded by horses, and opened a stable in 1925. Stevens went on to live a quiet life, never having children, and died in California at the age of 82.
Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. 1st ed., New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996. Print.
Burke, Carolyn and Naomi Sawelson-Gorse. “In Search of Frances Simpson Stevens.” Art in America, 82.4 (1994): 106-115. Print.
“Frances Simpson Stevens 1911 (1894-1976).” Helen Temple Cooke Library, Dana Hall School, 16 Sept. 2011.
Naumann, Francis M. “A Lost American Futurist.” Art in America, 82.4 (1994): 104-113. Print.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station.” 2017. Web.