What’s Up at the BMA: The Legend of Zelda

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Zelda Fitzgerald's Ober House
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (American, 1900-1948), Ober House, about 1940. Watercolor on paper. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art: Gift of Patrick Cather, Shoal Creek, Alabama in fond memory of “Bo” Brown (1957-1992), Indian Springs School Class of 1976. AFI.132016

One visit to the BMA is never enough! That’s because a mere 12% of the Museum’s collection of 27,000 objects is on view at any given time. Our curators and preparators are constantly working to rotate and refresh our gallery spaces so that each time you’re here, you’ll see something new.

Thanks to the generosity of longtime Museum patron and Alabama art collector Patrick Cather, we recently added a work by Jazz Age icon Zelda Fitzgerald to the permanent collection.

A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald—wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald—became one of the defining figures of the Roaring Twenties. She was a skilled artist, particularly in the medium of watercolor, but her work was often overshadowed by her husband’s literary achievements. On the occasion of a 1934 New York exhibition of Zelda’s paintings and drawings, The New Yorker, which had been critical of her husband’s writings, noted, “Paintings by the almost mythical Zelda Fitzgerald; with whatever emotional overtones or associations may remain from the so-called Jazz Age.” This biting comment reveals the extent to which the cultural establishment refused to separate her persona from her artwork, which is among the several reasons why her work wasn’t seriously appreciated by art historians and museums until the later twentieth century.

Zelda, Scottie, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1928.
Zelda, Scottie, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1928.

This vivid example of her work depicts the Scarsdale, New York home of Harold Ober, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary agent, and his wife Anne. Because Scott and Zelda’s respective struggles with alcoholism and mental illness often left them unable to care for their daughter Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald (1921-1986), she was effectively raised by the Obers, lending personal significance to the subject matter. Scottie lived the final years of her life in her mother’s hometown and gave this to Dr. Jane M. Day in 1985. A few years later, after Dr. Day closed her medical practice, it was acquired by Patrick Cather at Montgomery’s Stonehenge Gallery.

Want to see Zelda’s watercolor painting in person? Visit our American Art Gallery soon!