Zelda Fitzgerald's art makes a novel return

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The Independent Culture
Long scattered and almost forgotten, the vivid paintings of the novelist F Scott Fitzgerald's mentally disturbed wife Zelda are to be belatedly introduced to the world by her granddaughter.

Eleanor Lanahan was inspired to write Zelda, An Illustrated Life after being contacted by a student who was writing a dissertation on Zelda Fitzgerald's art.

Her research alerted Ms Lanahan to the whereabouts of many of Zelda's paintings and led her to discover 11 works that her grandmother had painted in therapy exercises in a Baltimore psychiatric clinic.

The book is the first to be devoted to Zelda's art. It is illustrated with dozens of her paintings and gives a frank portrait of the Southern belle who was born in 1900, married Fitzgerald at 20 and was the centre of the Jazz Age until she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. She was plagued by madness until her death, aged 48, in a fire at an asylum.

In recent years Zelda's fiction, much of it published under the name of her famous husband, has undergone a critical rejuvenation. But her art remains unknown. "[It] has been systematically ignored, even rejected, as a serious subject for evaluation and analysis," writes the art historian Jane Livingston in the book.

Zelda turned to painting after a decade of desperate living, immortalised in her husband's The Great Gatsby. She and Fitzgerald were seen as a golden couple. But their dream soured in a morass of drinking.

"Together they caused so many scenes and passed out so often at parties as to become a kind of national attraction. 'Here come the Fitzgeralds!' their friends exclaimed when they entered a room; before the night was over Scott might well have busted up the furniture, tossed figs at his hostess, or chewed and swallowed a wad of $20 bills before crumpling to the floor," the book says.

An actress, Laurette Taylor, observed after meeting the couple that she had just seen "the doom of youth itself". Zelda was going mad; her doctor described her as "a constitutional, emotionally unbal- anced psychopath".

One night on the French Riviera she nearly sped off the Grande Corniche, declaring: "I think I'll turn off here". Another time, she lay down in front of their car and said, "Scott, drive over me".

The Fitzgeralds had a daughter they named Scottie - they had been expecting a boy. For her Zelda did her early paintings of intricate paper dolls.

"Some of them represented the three of us," Scottie wrote. "These dolls had wardrobes of which Rumpelstiltskin could be proud."

Other paintings sprang from Zelda's obsession with dance. Often the ballerinas had enlarged limbs: "That's how a ballet dancer feels after dancing," she explained. She also depicted flowers and cityscapes.

But in her mid-thirties her subject matter changed. She had converted to Christianity and was experiencing religious hallucinations. On one work she daubed in red: "Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone."

The most accessible paintings are the bright, amusing ones Zelda did for Scottie, based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and fairy tales such as Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, and The Three Little Pigs.

Some featured in an exhibition in her lifetime; but it received disappointing reviews. Several friends bought works - but apparently out of pity, for they have all since vanished.

In 1940 Scott died. Their life had proved an ironic comment on Zelda's early observation to her husband: "Both of us are very splashy vivid pictures, those kind with the details left out, but I know our colours will blend, and I think we'll look very well hanging beside each other in the gallery of life."

5 Zelda, An Illustrated Life, published this month by Abrams.