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The Hidden Artwork of Zelda Fitzgerald

Rachel Kester

The Roaring Twenties – when most people hear of this period in time, they think of the Charleston, jazz, and of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was one of the top writers during the 1920s, in fact, he even gave the decade its nickname the “Jazz Age.”

Fitzgerald and his family became major celebrities, especially his glamorous wife Zelda. In fact, Fitzgerald claimed his wife to be “the first American flapper.”

However, behind the glitz and glamour of parties and a rich lifestyle, his wife Zelda suffered from neglect. Her marriage was tumultuous as she and her husband would fight often about money matters.

American novelist Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and wife Zelda sitting outside on lawn at her mother’s home. Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

American novelist Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and wife Zelda sitting outside on lawn at her mother’s home. Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

They would also have heated discussions about their love life as F. Scott was envious of the male attention his wife would often get. Once their daughter Frances Scott was born though, things took a huge turn. The couple found themselves with numerous bills they needed to pay, meaning their carefree lifestyle would have to come to a close.

It was around this time that Zelda tried her hand at writing, although her stories were never as popular as her husband’s. She published one book, Save Me the Waltz, which gave readers insight into her marriage and life with her iconic husband writer.

American author F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) attends a formal event with his wife Zelda (1900 – 1948), circa 1935. Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

American author F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) attends a formal event with his wife Zelda (1900 – 1948), circa 1935. Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The book wasn’t a hit and critics tore into it. The New York Times wrote: “It is not only that her publishers have not seen fit to curb an almost ludicrous lushness of writing but they have not given the book the elementary services of a literate proofreader.”

Because of these harsh reviews, Zelda found herself becoming depressed which affected her health immensely. She often struggled to find motivation in life and things to do that could get her mind off her troubles.

Fifth Avenue by Zelda Fitzgerald, gouache on paper

Fifth Avenue by Zelda Fitzgerald, gouache on paper

Zelda once tried to retrain herself in ballet, but often overdid it and would exhaust her body too much. Her husband was also very dismissive of her love for ballet which made it difficult for her to dance with peace of mind.

However, many might be surprised to learn that Zelda Fitzgerald had a great love for art and would make whimsical sketches of historical events and people she knew. Some of her most popular sketches include ones of world landmarks, like the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and the Luxembourg Gardens in France. Her watercolor paintings also sometimes used Biblical themes.

Zelda especially loved fairy tales and used them as inspiration for many of her pieces, like Puppeufee, which combines absurdity with beauty in a fanciful way. She was also fond of Alice in Wonderland and created many unique sketches and paintings of scenes from this classic novel.

Hope by Zelda Fitzgerald Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, AL. Photo by Shannon McGee CC BY SA 2.0

Hope by Zelda Fitzgerald Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, AL. Photo by Shannon McGee CC BY SA 2.0

What’s most impressive though is that Zelda would draw these scenes from memory. She needed no references — the pictures were clearly cemented into her mind.

In addition to this, she tried her hand at making intricate paper dolls for her daughter. She would design women with collections of various dresses and clothing items that Frances Scott could play with and decorate to her heart’s content.

Still Life with Cyclamen by Zelda Fitzgerald, watercolor on paper

Still Life with Cyclamen by Zelda Fitzgerald, watercolor on paper

Zelda would often show her husband her works and he was impressed with her talent. F. Scott would surprise her with art books and even claimed that once the World War was over she should host an art exhibit. While this wasn’t to be at the time, today, her paintings grace the walls of many museums and art galleries for admiring fans to view.

The grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. The quote is the final line of The Great Gatsby

The grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. The quote is the final line of The Great Gatsby

It might seem as if Zelda Fitzgerald’s life was one of ease and comfort, but she suffered greatly and art was one of her only ways to escape the troubles life brought her.

Read another story from us: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s 1930s home is now available as a nightly rental

Her creative paintings and sketches tell stories not only of her adventures and thoughts, but show her emotions for places and people with the intensity of colors. Her try at writing might not have been the most impressive, but her artwork has survived the test of time.