Born in Italy, Joseph Stella immigrated to New York City at the age of nineteen and went on to become one of America’s foremost modernist painters. He remained deeply loyal to his Italian heritage and was often torn between his love for both countries. As one Italian writer remarked, “Two instincts clash in him, two contrasting elements, two passions; two homelands crowd his creative thought." No doubt it was this very combination of cultures that enabled Stella to develop such a truly individual artistic style.
Stella showed an early passion and aptitude for art, and he enrolled at the New York School of Art in 1897, studying under William Merritt Chase. He was initially fascinated by the work of the Old Masters, and his early drawings demonstrate how well he adopted their techniques. In 1909, he was finally able to return to Italy for the first time in thirteen years, and he wrote in his typically effusive style, “What a tremor of joy erupted at last!" Stella spent two years in Italy, basking in the beauty of his homeland and immersing himself in the art of the Italian Renaissance. However in 1911, he set out for Paris where he was dazzled by the modernist art scene and inspired by its “hyperbolic chromatic wealth." Stella returned to the United States determined to emulate the art of his time, however his first efforts revealed how reluctant he was to let go of illusionistic space and the influence of his Italian ancestors. Stella wrestled with this dilemma for much of his career, but he ultimately developed his own distinctive approach to painting, which reflected his conclusion that art should be free of “any bondage of time and locality."