In her 1995 biography of Florine Stettheimer Barbara Bloemink identifies everyone the artist put in this painting of a painting unveiling, based on guests whose presence at such soirées had been recorded somewhere. I don’t have my copy of Bloemink’s book handy, but my guess is the sources were the correspondence and journals of Florine and Ettie Stettheimer at Yale’s Beinecke Library, which transferred the painting to the Art Gallery in 2019.
According to Bloemink, the two guys contemplating the painting in the lower left are sculptor Gaston Lachaise and cubist evangelist painter Albert Gleizes. Ettie Stettheimer is in green in the upper left, sitting next to poet Isabel Lachaise, the sculptor’s wife and muse. Painter/sculptor Maurice Sterne is standing behind them. Sterne’s wife Mabel Dodge, a friend of Gertrude and Leo Stein with a giant villa in Florence and a downtown Manhattan salon, who was part of the founding of artist colonies in Provincetown and Taos, is not pictured. But that’s Leo Stein on the pouf, next to playwright and Carl van Vechten squeeze Avery Hopwood on the ottoman. Florine Stettheimer herself is sitting on the sofa at right between Madame Juliette Gleizes and an unknown figure in harlequin pants.
Everyone’s accounted for so far, but Bloemink identified the dark-skinned figure in a black suit at the top center of the picture, sitting in front of the nude self-portrait Stettheimer never exhibited publicly in her lifetime—nor was it included in the posthumous show Marcel Duchamp organized for her at MoMA in 1946, although this painting was—as “Hindu poet Sankar.” Sankar, whose only mentions I can find are related to this painting, but it seems pretty clear the reason they were invited was to keep the painting from getting censored on Tumblr. So who even is Hindu poet Sankar, and what have they done? Literally every online mention of them tries to sound like of course, they know who Hindu poet Sankar is, but if you don’t know, they’re not going to tell you.
Anyway, Sankar looks a little uncomfortable, not to say out of place—no, stay right there, Sankar, don’t move, I’ll get you a drink. This is a family blog.
[At least it’s not just me update: In a 2017 paper [pdf] on the interrelation between Carrie Stettheimer’s well-known doll house models and, respectively, Ettie’s writing and Florine’s painting, D]uke art historian Annabel Wharton notes that, even after enlisting the help of Asian Studies colleagues, she was unable to further identify “Hindu poet Sankar.” According to Wharton, Bloemink learned of the Sankar ID from a 1991 conversation with Yale’s longtime bibliographer and curator Donald Gallup [who died in 2000]. Gallup helped acquire and process Gertrude Stein’s papers, too, so he was familiar with the modernist milieu. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the library.]