A modern woman artist returns to Providence, 100 years on


Installation view of the Esther Pressoir “pod” now on view at RISD Museum, Providence, RI

One century after attaining her art degree, Esther Estelle Pressoir (1902–1986) returns to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)!

Pressoir graduated in 1923 from RISD’s Department of Freehand Drawing and Painting. Beginning this month, the RISD Museum celebrates its illustrious alum with a gallery wall installation (pod) of Pressoir’s works as part of its rotating exhibit Art and Design from 1900 to Now.

Esther Pressoir—Stella, to her friends—was an accomplished and prolific painter, draughtsman, printmaker, and ceramicist. During her lifetime, her art was exhibited in, and purchased by, galleries and museums across the United States. Her stylized spot drawings were regularly featured in The New Yorker magazine. Pressoir’s extensive body of work includes unabashed self-portraits, and intimate depictions of her longtime lover and muse Florita, a dancer from Harlem. For decades, her oeuvre has been hiding in plain sight. It is now ripe for rediscovery.

Florita, between 1924 and 1944, by Esther Pressoir; RISD Museum

The centerpiece of the RISD Museum Pressoir pod is a somber-toned self-portrait in oil. This painting will remain on display throughout the Esther Pressoir rotation. The RISD Museum has cleaned and refurbished the work for the occasion. 

Self-Portrait (smoking), c. 1930, by Esther Pressoir; RISD Museum

Two different sets of Pressoir works on paper will complement the self-portrait. The first set will be on view from September 2023 through January 2024. The second set will be mounted in February 2024, to remain on view through August 2024.

Artist and Model, c. 1930s, by Esther Pressoir; RISD Museum

Like Alice NeelFlorine Stettheimer and Suzanne Valadon, she participated in the early twentieth-century art scene, in America and abroad. Pressoir was a force to be reckoned with in the decades of emergent feminism and modern art in America. The Pressoir installation at the RISD Museum this year restores her to the constellation of America’s influential modern artists.

To learn more about Pressoir, read Suzanne Scanlan’s Art Herstory guest post Esther Pressoir: Imagining the Modern Woman. Scanlan, an Assistant Professor at RISD, is the author of Esther Pressoir: A Modern Woman’s Painter (forthcoming in Spring 2024).

Visit the RISD Museum on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m.

Other Art Herstory guest posts you might enjoy:

Material Re-Enchantments: A Review of Remedios Varo: Science Fictions, by Suzanne Karr Schmidt

Museum Exhibitions about Historic Women Artists: 2023

Esther Pressoir: Imagining the Modern Woman, by Suzanne Scanlan

Marie Laurencin and the Autonomy of Self-Representation, by Mary Creed

Dalla Husband’s Contribution to Atelier 17, by Silvano Levy

Anna Boberg: Artist, Wife, Polar Explorer, by Isabelle Gapp

The Life and Art of Dorothea Tanning, by Victoria Carruthers

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