42 x 35 in. (106.7 x 88.9 cm)
Hilda Altschule Coates (aka Hilda Altschule)
(Russia, 1900 - 1983, Rochester, NY)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Anonymous gift in memory of Willson H. and Hilda Altschule Coates
Location: Not currently on view
From her limited formal art training, Hilda Altschule Coates evolved a personal and expressive style. What could Coates have embedded in this seemingly symbol-laden still life arranged in a corner of her apartment on Alexander Street? The initial sensation the viewer experiences is vertigo due to the dizzying perspective of the table and the white lily leaning towards the open third-floor window. Curiosity comes next. Who are the seven glasses for? Shouldn’t the lemon be in the empty fruit bowl rather than on the precipitously-tilted table? And why a white lily, traditionally a symbol of purity located near the Virgin Mary in paintings of the Annunciation? Unfortunately, a personal interpretation is lost to us as this painting was given to the Gallery after the artist’s death in 1983.
[Label text from It Came From the Vault exhibition, 2013]
“My art education is, and has been, without benefit of art school. I say this neither boastfully nor apologetically, simply with a wish to report the facts.” So wrote Hilda Altschule Coates, whose formal art training consisted of an undergraduate painting class while she worked on a degree in natural sciences at Hunter College, and another while pursuing her master’s degree in philosophy at Cornell University. Studying and working on her own, she evolved a style which she felt depended upon emotive rather than cerebral elements for its impact.
Many of Altschule’s paintings of the 30s and 40s are studies of interiors that draw the eye around a room and out the window to the world outside. This particular canvas shows the view from her apartment on Alexander Street in Rochester. The eccentric perspective and a fascination with surfaces – the cloudy glass of the goblets, the reflective tray upon which they rest, the warm patina of an antique table, and the glossy leaves of the lily plant – are characteristic of Altschule’s early work.
The lily is a symbol of purity; legend has it that the first lily sprang up from the tears Eve shed when she was expelled from the Garden of Eden.
[Gallery label text, 1994]