Work of the Week – February 23, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

by Sadie Barner

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
This week’s Work of the Week is Japanese Magnolias by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

By the time a person has achieved years adequate for choosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future.” –Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald took the world by storm even from an early age. She was born in Montgomery, Alabama on July 14, 1900. Her father was a judge and her mother was a housewife. Her mother was a nonconformist who encouraged her children to be themselves and express themselves. Zelda came from a high-class family but she never let this  change her actions. She started taking dancing lessons in 1917. However, she preferred the less formal dance at the Old Exchange Hotel. Soldiers from camp Sheridan and Camp Taylor would meet there and dance with local girls. Zelda was loved by all the soldiers. They even wrote a drill in her honor. It was here that she met F. Scott Fitzgerald in April 1918.

At first Zelda refused Fitzgerald’s advances, telling him he needed to be successful first. After his first novel was published in 1920, Zelda and F. Scott were quickly married. Zelda enjoyed writing but was often discouraged by Fitzgerald’s feedback;  however, many of F. Scott’s published writings were actually written by Zelda. The couple also collaborated and wrote short stories together.

In April 1930, Zelda had the first of many mental breakdowns. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. She began working on her first and only novel Save Me the Waltz. She was soon released but would spend much of the rest of her life in and out of institutions.

She returned to painting, which she had enjoyed as a child, and used oils, pastels and watercolors. Many of her paintings were of dancers. While Zelda’s dancers were often disformed, she said she tried to paint the steps and the way dancing made your body feel.

Japanese Magnolias is one of Zelda Fitzgerald’s few remaining paintings. She would destroy many of her paintings and many of them were lost in the fire that killed her. The painting is simple yet elegant. However, it has that melancholy, trapped feeling that Zelda must have felt during her life. She constantly lived in the shadow of her husband. Her Japanese Magnolias, while a painting of flowers, shows a struggle she must have faced in an era that didn’t encourage women’s professional success.

Artwork above: Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Japanese Magnolias, 1945 ca, Oil Painting, 36 x 24 inches. Gift of Ted Mitchell in honor of Edna Mitchell. Permanent Collection. 1997.04.21.