The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art

Ursinus College

Collegeville, PA



Zelda: By Herself - The Art of Zelda Fitzgerald


The Berman Museum of Art's latest exhibition exemplifies Zelda Fitzgerald's lifelong struggle to create her own artistic identity. "Zelda: By Herself," through April 19, 2001, in the Upper Gallery at Ursinus College, highlights her artistic expression as a painter of brilliantly colored, whimsical, sometimes fantastical works of art. Her granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan, describes the paintings as "theatrical... like on a raised stage, and the characters are actors waiting to perform."

Lanahan will deliver a lecture at 4 p.m. and attend a reception at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, in the Museum. She will be available to autograph and discuss her book "Zelda: An Illustrated Life - The Private World of Zelda Fitzgerald," which she edited.

The exhibit, organized and circulated by International Arts & Artists based in Washington, D.C., demonstrates how Zelda's life influenced her choice of subjects. Fifty-four watercolor paintings and delicate paper doll constructions illuminate her flights of fancy, views of the changing early 20th century, and perhaps even fears. One series represents children's fairy tales, such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "The Lobster Quadrille," from Alice in Wonderland. The Bible and Zelda's strong religious beliefs inspired another set of illustrations. She also painted portraits of herself and her husband, as well as scenes from New York in the 1940s. (left: Old Mother Hubbard, gouache on paper, 13 1/2 x 17 5/8 inches)

"This exhibition focuses extensively on Zelda's creative achievement, particularly her painting on which she concentrated in the last 14 years of her life," said Lisa Tremper Hanover, director of the Berman Museum of Art. "Her private struggle for self-expression and happiness took place amid the turbulence of a troubled life. Her story must be seen as one individual's effort to live fully against almost insurmountable odds."

Born in 1900 in Montgomery, Ala., Zelda entered a world that was just considering women as independent citizens capable of making decisions. Her parents reared Zelda, the youngest of six children, as a free-spirited, imaginative and thoroughly spoiled child. Best known as the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties novelist, she embodied the quintessential Southern belie.

At age 18 she met Scott at one of the many parties she attended. A constant stream of passionate and argumentative love letters punctuated their engagement. Zelda struggled against her southern upbringing and its social constraints to create a new independent identity, not just for herself, but for all American women. While Scott worked in Manhattan, Zelda remained at home writing magazine articles and even song lyrics. (left: Puppeufee, gouache on paper, 11 1/2 x 18 3/4 inches)

When Scott was 21, he submitted his first novel to Charles Scribner's Sons. It was rejected. After Scribner's rejected the rewritten piece, Zelda broke their engagement because she thought he had no prospects. Scott returned to his parents' row house in St. Paul, Minn., where he rewrote the novel a third time. Two weeks later he discovered that This Side of Paradise was finally accepted for publication. Fitzgerald suddenly became a rich and famous author and married Zelda a week after the book's release.

(left: Times Square, c. 1944, gouache on paper,13 1/2 x 17 5/8 inches, Courtesy of Samuel J. Lanahan)
"Twilights were wonderful just after the war. They hung above New York like indigo wash, forming themselves from asphalt dust and sooty shadows under the cornices and limp gusts of air exhaled from closing windows, to hang above the streets with all the mystery of white fog rising off a swamp. The faraway lights from buildings high in the sky burned hazily through the blue, like golden objects lost in deep grass, and the noise of hurrying streets took on that hushed quality of many footfalls in a huge stone square..."
"The Millionaire's Girl" 1930

As his wife, Zelda embarked on a new life as a flapper, a freethinking woman with the world at her disposal. She was a tremendous influence on his writing, providing much of the material for his novels and short stories throughout their lives. She bore her first and only child at age 21. Three years later Fitzgerald completed his best-known work, The Great Gatsby.

By 1924, her influence on Scott's writing was less positive. When an affair with a French naval aviator strained their marriage, Zelda sought fulfillment in other venues. In 1928 she pursued a lifelong dream of becoming a professional ballerina.

Extravagant living made possible by success, however, took its toll. Scott's life was a tragic example of both sides of the American Dream: the joys of young love, wealth and success, and the tragedies associated with excess and failure. The Fitzgeralds tried in vain to seek respite from Scott's alcoholism and Zelda's mental illness. During her stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1932, she wrote her first and only novel, Save Me the Waltz. A fairly prolific writer, she also wrote 11 short stories and 12 articles during her lifetime. In 1940 at the age of 44 Scott suffered a heart attack and died, a failure in his own mind. In 1948 Zelda met a tragic death in a hospital fire in North Carolina at the age of 48.

Read more about the Berman Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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