In Loving Memory of Flora Natapoff

Welcome to the memorial page for Flora Natapoff: artist, mother, teacher, and friend. She passed away on February 4, 2020 in Los Angeles, at the age of 83, three years after her husband Anthony Ryle

Her friends and family are scattered worldwide, so rather than holding a physical memorial service, we hope that this site will permit the people who knew and cared about her to share their memories, view her work, and mourn her passing together.

Flowers or donations, while appreciated, are unnecessary.

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8 replies on “In Loving Memory of Flora Natapoff”

The last time I saw Flora was in 2015 (?) at her and Grandpa Tony’s house in England. We chatted about art, (my work in) the museum field, and family. Flora was on good form that day, very chatty. Reminded me of the Flora from many years earlier, when I would visit her and Tony at their house in Hackney. Flora’s enigmatic presence there was everywhere, from her paintings, to her beauty, to her ability to drive conversation topics about art, feminism, or politics. When I think of her (and Tony) these are the images I see and will remember. xxx

I will always remember flora very fondly, we didn’t always agree she was as equally argumentative as me. But despite being frail of body at times she was very strong of mind, intelligent and engaging and she stuck firmly to her beliefs , I remember many visits to the house in Hackney where we would stay up late in the night discussing politics and art. I also have some very fond memories of trips to Italy, where I think the sun and the beauty of the landscape brought the very best out of her. She was a strong character in my formative years , we didn’t as I think I mentioned always see eye to eye , but I admired her and am sorry to not to have seen her much over the last year’s of her life. Love to Sam sasha and all her friends and family

Kate’s memories
Conversation with Flora could be anarchic, even chaotic on occasion. But it was never without its interest, and often very animated. I talked with her a lot, often about her personal history and experience, her earlier life and work in the US, or on matters bearing on our mutual fondness for Italy and cats. But especially in the later years we also talked quite regularly about art and sometimes philosophy. She taught me a lot about the Chinese scroll paintings that were such a major influence on her own work, and on which she was an expert. I enjoyed talks, too, on Lyubov Popova, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Alice Neel. We revelled together over the images in the book she acquired from the Tate exhibition on ‘Bronze’, and there was much exchange of views on such figures as Adorno and Merleau-Ponty. I also recall a number of outings with her, notably to a concert given by the Brodsky Quartet at the Kings Place, and visits to galleries together, in the later period with me pushing her wheel-chair round. One of the more cherished memories is of when I was staying with Flora and Tony in Italy, and he was driving us at 5-10 mph. on the roads around Belvedere to allow Flora to do quick charcoal sketches of the surrounding mountains, all to the accompaniment of Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Three and Four Part Inventions. There are also fond memories of the several trips Martin and I made in the final years to visit Flora and Tony in Petworth. We often took Caspar, our grandson, with us. He was still a baby then, but always a source of delight to everyone. Flora and he would exchange long and mutually respectful gazes.
I want to pay tribute finally to the magnanimity with which Flora confronted her MS. Though she had to endure a horrible and progressively disabling illness, she did it without rancour and with a good deal of wit and conviviality. I imagine that to be chronically ill and remain a hedonist is no easy thing. But Flora managed it.

Martin’s memories
I am going to write here about the memories I have of visiting Flora during the last few years of her life with Tony, when they were living in Petworth. It was a time when as a couple they seemed happy and calm, even if it was also a time of reduced space and scope. The house was small, which meant that Flora, whose mobility was by then very restricted, had only the limited change of environment offered by coming down from the bedroom she shared with Tony to the sitting-room where we would all eat and talk. She always descended to join us – latterly, in the lift which gave her entrance a nicely theatrical air – when I visited with Kate and our then quite new grandson Caspar. With the help of their friend Ian, they had made their small garden quite attractive, and Flora enjoyed watching through the big plate glass window the birds that would visit to peck at the food left on the bird table.
Flora’s capacity to find pleasure in such small things, things that once she might not have noticed, was an aspect of her tenacity in continuing to relish life when many people might have abandoned the quest for enjoyment. She also loved to talk, as she had always done: about her childhood, about her children, about her work and about paintings, films and books. Kate would often be her partner in conversation (or her willing listener), while Tony and I watched Caspar taking his first steps, using the furniture as a prop. Flora greatly enjoyed Caspar too. Kate and I were loving the experience of having a grandchild we saw regularly, and our shared pleasure in his first steps and first words was a new bond between the four of us.
Flora came into our family at a difficult moment, when my brothers and sister and I were still coming to terms with our parents’ separation, and in the years that followed she and Tony were sometimes difficult company. The tension between them made visits to their Italian house less fun than they should have been. I know that Tony, who bitterly
regretted their period of separation while Flora was in New York, was determined that when she came back to Petworth their life together should be peaceful and hoped to give Flora all the support she needed to make the most of it. I was pleased for them both that he achieved this and that their last years together were good ones; and I am glad to have the memory of those years when, seeing her more regularly than I had ever done before, I came to know Flora better and to appreciate her more justly.

I enjoyed the short time that I had spent with Flora, almost everyday I would greet her at her bedside at the nursing home. What began as a business transition later became a personal mission to make sure she had her enjoyment for the day, she would love her daily glass of wine. We would have short conversations just about any and everything, but mostly about Sasha and Sam. We would sometimes chat about things she remembered that day from watching the news, she had a very strong opinion about the president..haha that was always interesting to hear. I became good friends with Flora, she was always glad to see me not just for me bring her libation but someone she would enjoy expressing her thoughts with. Also Flora was fond of my kids, as I would bring them by sometimes to say hi to her. Flora enjoyed when they were around and the times the kids would bring her things they made just for her around the holidays. I know that Flora was most proud of her kids and they meant the world to her. My time with Flora would be a memorable part of my life and I enjoyed knowing her and believe truly she would be resting in peace now.

Flora was my shining star. When I and a few other students from the Design School stumbled into her drawing class, in Corbusier’s only building in the hemisphere, we entered a portal, and I, for one, never really returned.
Flora was my only art teacher. She was imperious, uncompromising, honest. She passed along the weight of a tradition and its counterpart, upheaval. We drew from a gigantic pile of bikes, chairs and assorted junk that was massed on the floor, a crazed construction with infinite possibilities.
This is what she taught us: relationships. Her favorite phrase: this to this to this. Linkages.
I had to relearn everything.
I really got it when I went to see her work at an exhibit in New York. It was muscular, unflinching, fierce.
I got to know Flora, and then Tony, after school ended and I remained in Cambridge for a while.
She had encouraged me to stick with architecture, which I did.
We stayed in touch through the years of her illness, after I moved to NY, and she and Tony had retreated to London.
I had the pleasure of visiting them there, and in Italy, and again in the countryside.
When I became a full time artist, and a part time teacher, I knew better than to ask her advice. She was simply my role model; always had been, always will be.

I have loved Flora since I met her in Cambridge in the 1960s. She was then working on her largest collages in half a room of the apartment. I don’t know how she did with a husband and two children. She adored her kids, and on Saturdays we used to take them to the North End of Boston to buy food for a week and to lunch on pizza and good red Italian wine. We used to go to museums and galleries together. She taught me almost all I know about painting in detail. She was happy then, though eventually she found it necessary to divorce her husband. Then she fell in love with Tony and eventually moved to England, where I lost track of her for a while. We reunited in her house in Italy, and she was, as always, brilliant, fascinating and great company.

I do not remember exactly when I first met Flora Natapoff, but she was unforgettable. It was the late 70’s and I had my dental practice in Kenmore Square in Boston. Dr. Alvin Krakow was one my landlords, and his wife Barbara was co-owner of an art gallery on Newbury Street that represented Flora Natapoff.
Flora was on the faculty at Harvard, and was going through a bitter divorce. She had no money to pay for dental treatment, but would barter for her artwork. Dr. Krakow asked me if I would be willing to take her on as a patient. I was, even though I had never seen her work.
Flora was a good patient, and we got along well. After a few months her dental work was completed and she invited me to her studio in Cambridge to select artwork as compensation. I forewarned her that I knew nothing about art. She said that was not a problem.
Flora was an attractive woman. She was 6 feet 1-1/2 inches tall, slender, had dark curly hair, smoked cigarettes in a long thin black cigarette holder and she was flamboyant. Her studio suited her perfectly. It was huge, painted white, with a high ceiling and many windows. Most of her paintings were large collage/montage with acrylics and oils. She explained that she painted her arm span – 7-1/2 feet wide by 6 feet tall. My dental work did not qualify for a large piece; however she had a sizeable stack of smaller paintings for me to chose from.
Flora said she had to pick up her 2 kids – a boy about 7 years old, and her daughter who was 11 – and she would be back in about a half hour. “Feel free to look through the pile”. The door closed, and I was alone with her work.
I stood them up on the floor 6 at a time leaning against furniture and began the elimination process. One in particular was a definite keeper. It looked like a street scene in Paris viewed from a balcony overlooking the area. The colors were beautiful and it was a peaceful painting. I clipped it to an easel, then continued my search.
When Flora returned with her two children, she asked how I was doing. I said that I was still looking but I had made one decision and pointed to the easel.
Flora took a deep drag on her cigarette, and said “Good…..but you have it upside down!” She corrected it, and then it was obviously a subway station. Some 40 years later, it hangs in our condo, and it still looks wonderful – both ways.
I tried to find Flora before she passed away to let her know how much I have and still do enjoy the two pieces we look at daily. (I had many others but needed to downsize.)
I kept trying, and finally located Sam in New York. He said his mother would often tell the story of how she would barter her work with me for dental care. It was a favorite story of hers. Sam assured me he would tell her I had contacted him. That was wonderful news. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I wondered if she were safe. I am glad she did not have to deal with it. Fond memories of Flora will always be with me.
Ann Setkowicz, DDS

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