Happy Birthday to America’s First Futurist Painter, Joseph Stella!

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Joseph Stella’s oil-on-canvas painting, “Brooklyn Bridge” (1919–1920), measures 84 x 76 inches and is in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Today we’re celebrating the art of Joseph Stella, who was born on this day in 1877. Stella’s large 1920 oil painting, Brooklyn Bridge, is one of 12 works featured on the Modern Art in America stamp sheet released in March.

Look closely at the image on the stamp. It depicts the familiar pointed arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, but perhaps you also see the lines of a Gothic cathedral. If so, that’s exactly what Stella intended. The painting was inspired by his experience standing late one night on the bridge’s promenade. “I felt deeply moved,” he later wrote, “as if on the threshold of a new religion or in the presence of a new divinity.” Rather than a faithful representation of the New York landmark, Stella’s portrait of the Brooklyn Bridge suggests the possibility for spiritual transcendence in the modern world. Can you think of other paintings or works of art that do the same thing?

Although Joseph Stella is best remembered for his multiple images of the Brooklyn Bridge and other iconic New York scenes, he was a versatile artist who worked in a variety of styles—including Dada, realism, and symbolism—and the full range of his talent is now widely recognized.

Stella was born in Italy and came to the United States in 1896. (He became a U.S. citizen in 1923.) Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for various magazines and won wide acclaim for a series of drawings of coal miners and steel mill workers. Later, impressed by the art of the Italian Futurists, he painted Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913–1914), which is considered the first American Futurist painting. (Responding to the speed of modern society, the Futurists attempted to portray the rush of sights and sounds that characterized modern life.) Two of his works were exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show, a watershed for the development of modern art in America.

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You can find the Joseph Stella Forever® stamp on the Modern Art in America stamp sheet, which is available now online, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), and in Post Offices around the country. (Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.)

Have a favorite Joseph Stella painting? Tell us about it in the comments.