Discover the Stettheimer Dollhouse: The 12-Room Dollhouse Featuring Miniature, Original Modernist Art by Marcel Duchamp

The Stet­theimer Doll­house has been wow­ing young New York­ers since it entered the Muse­um of the City of New York’s col­lec­tion in 1944.

The lux­u­ri­ous­ly appoint­ed, two-sto­ry, twelve-room house fea­tures tiny crys­tal chan­de­liers, trompe l’oeil pan­els, an itty bit­ty mah-jongg set, and a deli­cious-look­ing dessert assort­ment that would have dri­ven Beat­rix Potter’s Two Bad Mice wild.

Its most aston­ish­ing fea­ture, how­ev­er, tends to go over its youngest fans’ heads — an art gallery filled with orig­i­nal mod­ernist paint­ings, draw­ings, and sculp­tures by the likes of Mar­cel DuchampGeorge Bel­lowsGas­ton Lachaise, and Mar­guerite Zorach.

The house’s cre­ator, Car­rie Wal­ter Stet­theimer, drew on her family’s close per­son­al ties to the avant-garde art world to secure these con­tri­bu­tions.

The art deal­er Paul Rosen­berg described the affin­i­ty between these artists and the three wealthy Stet­theimer sis­ters, one of whom, Florine, was her­self a mod­ernist painter:

Artists… went there and not at all mere­ly because of the indi­vid­u­al­i­ties of the trio of women and their taste­ful hos­pi­tal­i­ty. They went for the rea­son that they felt them­selves entire­ly at home with the Stetties—so the trio was called—and the Stet­ties seemed to feel them­selves entire­ly at home in their com­pa­ny. Art was an indis­pens­able com­po­nent of the mod­ern, open intel­lec­tu­al life of the place. The sis­ters felt it as a liv­ing issue. Sin­cere­ly they lived it.

Art is def­i­nite­ly part of the dollhouse’s life.

Duchamp recre­at­ed Nude Descend­ing a Stair­case, inscrib­ing the back “Pour la col­lec­tion de la poupée de Car­rie Stet­theimer à l’occasion de sa fête en bon sou­venir. Mar­cel Duchamp 23 juil­let 1918 N.Y.”

Mar­guerite Thomp­son ZorachAlexan­der Archipenko, and Paul Theve­naz also felt no com­punc­tion about fur­nish­ing a doll­house with nudes.

Louis Bouché — the “bad boy of Amer­i­can art” as per the Stet­theimers’ friend, writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Carl Van Vecht­en, made a tiny ver­sion of his paint­ing, Mama’s Boy.

Car­rie wrote to Gas­ton Lachaise, to thank him for two minia­ture nude draw­ings and an alabaster Venus:

My dolls and I thank you most sin­cere­ly for the love­ly draw­ings that are to grace their art gallery. I think that the dolls—after they are born, which they are not, yet—ought to be the hap­pi­est and proud­est dolls in the world as own­ers of the draw­ings and the beau­ti­ful stat­ue. I am now hop­ing that they will nev­er be born, so that I can keep them [the art works] for­ev­er in cus­tody, and enjoy them myself, while await­ing their arrival.

Car­rie worked on the doll­house from from 1916 to 1935. Her sis­ter Ettie donat­ed it to the muse­um and took it upon her­self to arrange the art­work. As Johan­na Fate­man writes in 4Columns:

Twen­ty-eight of the artists’ gifts were stored sep­a­rate­ly; Ettie select­ed thir­teen from the col­lec­tion, and her grace­ful arrange­ment became per­ma­nent, though it’s like­ly that the pieces were meant to be shown in rota­tion.

The Muse­um of the City of New York’s cur­rent exhi­bi­tion, The Stet­theimer Doll­house: Up Close, includes pho­tos of the art­works that Ettie did not choose to install.

The works that have always been on view are Mar­cel Duchamp’s Nude Descend­ing a Stair­case, Alexan­der Archipenko’s Nude, Louis Bouche’s Mama’s Boy, Gas­ton Lachaise’s Venus and two nudesCarl Sprinchorn’s Dancers, Albert Gleizes’ Seat­ed Fig­ure and Bermu­da Land­scape, Paul Thevenaz’s L’Ombre and Nude with Flow­ing Hair, Mar­guerite Zorach’s Bather and Bathers, William Zorach’s Moth­er and Child, and a paint­ing of a ship by an unknown artist.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • dollhouse crafts says:

    Very thought­ful arti­cle. Yes, I agreed Art is def­i­nite­ly a part of doll­hous­es. It is not just for kids to play but also boosts their cre­ativ­i­ty as well. I have recent­ly made 2 doll­hous­es for my kids. As they love so much and they always like to exper­i­ment with new things with­in crafts.

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