Frances Simpson Stevens
March 5, 1894, Chicago, IL
July 18, 1976, Santa Rosa, California
Country of Origin/Citizenship
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 (Panzera 230).
While studying with Henri in Madrid, Stevens painted Roof Tops of Madrid and submitted the work to the 1913 Armory Show in New York (Panzera 230). 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 (Burke 150-51).
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 (Burke 151). 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 (Panzera 230). 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 (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 108). In 1916, when Loy emigrated to New York City, Stevens aided Loy in locating an apartment and introduced her “to the Arensberg salon at 33 West Sixty-Seventh Street” (Hayden 73).
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 (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 115). Stevens went on to live a quiet life, never having children, and died in California at the age of 82 (Burke and Sawelson-Gorse 112).
Burke, Carolyn and Naomi Sawelson-Gorse. “In Search of Frances Simpson Stevens.” Art in America, 82.4 (1994): 106-115.
Hayden, Sarah. Curious Disciplines: Mina Loy and Avant-Garde Artisthood. U of New Mexico P, 2018.
Naumann, Francis M. “A Lost American Futurist.” Art in America, 82.4 (1994): 104-113.
Panzera, Lisa. “Italian Futurism and Avant-Garde Painting in the United States.” International Futurism in Arts and Literature, edited by Günter Berghaus, Walter De Gruyter, 2000, 222-243.
Stevens, Frances Simpson. Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station. Philadelphia Museum of Art. http://philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51430.html?mulR=612018957. Accessed 26 June 2018.