1900–1948

Fitzgerald, Zelda

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Frequently overshadowed by her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was an accomlished writer, dancer, and painter. Born to a prominent family in Montgomery, Alabama, Zelda Sayre, a much-admired beauty, met Lieutenant Fitzgerald at a country club dance while he was stationed at Camp Sheridan during World War I; they wed in 1920. The author once declared, “I married the heroine of my stories.”

The Fitzgeralds maintained a highly visible and glamorous lifestyle throughout the 1920s and came to embody the Jazz Age; Zelda was often described in newspapers of the day as the quintessential flapper. The couple’s routine was also itinerant: New York hotels; family visits to Montgomery; and transatlantic trips with stays in Paris, the French Riviera, Rome, and Capri—moves motivated alternately by work opportunities, social invitations, or recurring financial difficulties. Their circle included Gertrude Stein, Romaine Brooks, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Later in that same decade, Zelda rekindled her youthful passion for ballet and studied in Paris; eventually, the rigorous physical and mental demands took their toll. She suffered her first breakdown in April 1930 and spent the next several months in and out of hospitals near Paris and in Switzerland. Her diagnosis, contested by some, was schizophrenia. In the fall of 1931, the couple returned permanently to the United States.  

The following year, Zelda Fitgerald published Save Me the Waltz, a heavily autobiographical novel, similar in approach to Scott’s Tender is the Night, which was issued two years later. She had her first painting lesson at the age of twenty-five. Stylistically, Fitzgerald’s paintings, abstracted and often fanciful, display a modernist influence as well as an awareness of Surrealism. When she introduced figures—either human or animal—she tended to exaggerate their muscularity, an emphasis inspired perhaps by her interest in dance. Ethereal flowers are the focus of several watercolors, which are occasionally highlighted with gouache. Regrettably, many of Fitzgerald’s paintings have been lost or destroyed.

Zelda Fitzgerald spent months voluntarily hospitalized in Baltimore, New York, and, finally, in Asheville, North Carolina, where she died in a fire caused by faulty wiring. A figure of perennial popular fascination, Zelda Fitzgerald has been the subject of several novels and books. The Montgomery Museum of Art holds a number of her works in its permanent collection.

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