In Macena Barton’s floral still life, the brilliant tones of tulip blossoms vie for attention with ripe fruit scattered across a green tabletop. Set against a plain background and with the front edge of the tabletop cut off from view, fruit and flowers seem to press into the viewer’s space, their luxuriant forms virtually writhing with a vital energy echoed in the twisting forms of poppies on the pink vase that barely contains the tulips.
Although best known to her contemporaries and today as a painter of striking portraits and nudes, Barton also considered still life one of her specialties. She made her debut in the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibitions in 1926 with a self-portrait and a still life, and three years later her first solo show, also at the Art Institute, featured three still-life images, among them two paintings of flowers. Critic Clarence J. Bulliet remarked that Barton, “Chicago’s best painter of the nude, speaks also in the language of flowers.”i Barton continued to win favor for her still-life paintings into the 1940s. This work probably dates to the 1930s. The vase depicted is an example of Roseville Pottery’s poppy line, which was introduced in 1930. Barton exhibited works titled The Bouquet, possibly this painting, as early as 1931 in her solo show at the M. Knoedler & Company gallery in Chicago.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD
Donated by M. Christine Schwartz to the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois, in 2021
i C. J. Bulliet, “Around the Galleries,” Chicago Daily News, Apr. 8, 1939