Joseph Stella (1877-1946) was born in a small village near Naples, Italy. He emigrated to New York at the age of 18 and anglicizing his name Giuseppe to Joseph. His older brother, a doctor, was already in New York and the plan was for Joseph to follow in his footsteps. After a year of medical school and another year of pharmacy school, Joseph gave up both and turned his sights to a career in art. He began attending classes at the Art Students League in New York where studied under William Merritt and, like Edward Hopper, Robert Henri, who had joined the Arts Students League in 1903.
Henri's philosophy that no subject was too mundane for the artist. Stella embraced this and began illustrating subjects of his fellow immigrants, becoming involved in immigration issues. He also began making a name for himself as a painter.
In 1909, homesick for Italy, he returned home for a visit. He also visited Paris where he saw, for the first time, Cubist and Futurist paintings. The Italian Futurists especially made an impression on him and he returned home to New York and completely changed his style of painting.
Italian Futurists believed that the modern artist should not look back to the past for his inspiration. The founder was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He published his Futurist Manifesto on February 5th, 1909 in an Italian newspaper. It was reprinted in France. Thus a movement began. Marinetti expressed a disdain for everything of the past, especially in politics and in the arts. Technology was the Futurists god. Speed, youth, violence, the car, the airplane, the industrial city, anything that represented technology's besting of nature. They were also passionate nationalists. I guess you could say that they were the opposites of the flower children of the sixties.
Stella returned to New York in 1912 and got to work. In 1913 he produced Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras. This is considered the first American Futurist painting.
Although Stella is considered the Father of the American Futurists, he did paintings many surrealistic paintings such as Flowers.
When Joseph Stella arrived in New York the Brooklyn Bridge was only about 15 years old. Designed by John Roebling, it connected Manhattan Island and Brooklyn on Long Island (a fascinating book about the building of the bridge is The Great Bridge by David McCullough.) Of course, he had never seen anything like it. It fascinated him and gave him comfort. He would walk across the bridge late at night and stand in awe of it. He did several paintings of the bridge, all from the same viewpoint. His perspective captures the impression you get when you walk over the bridge. This particular version was painted in 1939 and hangs in the Whitney Museum in New York. Here are Joseph Stella's own words about the bridge: "Steel and electricity had created this new world. A new drama had surged from the unmerciful violations of darkness at night, by the violent blaze of electricity… The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes and expanded to vast latitudes with the skyscrapers and with bridges made for the conjunction of worlds."
Other versions of the Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella.