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Friday, May 13, 2016

William and Marguerite Zorach

Sunset, Provincetown, William Zorach
Mother and Child, 1927-30, 
William Zorach
It's not too often I come across two exceptional artists, husband and wife, who represent an art partnership which stands as more than the sum of its two parts. She was an American Fauvist painter, textile artist, and graphic designer, an early exponent of modernism in America. Marguerite Thompson Zorach won the 1920 Logan Medal of the Arts. He was a Lithuanian-born American sculptor, painter, printmaker, and writer. William Zorach also won the Logan Medal of the arts. He is notable for being at the forefront of American Artists embracing cubism, as well as for his sculpture. That defines his also being an artist who embraced Modernism at an early point. She was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California, her father, a lawyer for Napa Valley vineyard owners. He was born a Lithuanian Jew in Jurbarkas in Lithuania (which was then occupied by the Russian Empire). He was the eighth of ten children. Zorach (then his given name) came with his family to the United States in 1894. They settled in Cleveland, Ohio, under the name "Finkelstein". She was born in 1887, he in 1889. They were married in December, 1912.

A painter married to a sculptor
William Zorach met Marguerite Thompson while they were both students in Paris. They were both part of the crowd of budding young Modernists befriended by the legendary American expatriates, Gertrude Stein and her brother, Leo. They counted among their social group such artists as Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, and Henri Matisse, all of whom Marguerite met through her “Aunt Addie’s” connections. It was through them that Marguerite first met her future husband. Zorach is said to have admired her passionate individuality, and modernist Fauvist art, though he found it hard to understand why such a nice girl would paint such wild pictures.

Nude Elongate, Marguerite Zorach
After completing her studies in Paris, Marguerite and her Aunt Addie took a lengthy tour of the world during 1911-12. They visited Jerusalem, Egypt, India, Burma, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Hawaii. The tour made an indelible impression upon the young would-be artist with the foreign places she had seen. She was eager to write about her experiences, sending articles to her childhood newspaper, the Fresno Morning Republican. The trip would also have a huge effect on her art, influencing her to paint even more abstractly than she had in the past. As she returned to California in 1912, Marguerite began to produce brightly colored Fauvist landscapes with thick black outlines as seen in her Les Baux (below), from 1912.

Les Baux, 1912, Marguerite Zorach
Affection, 1933, William Zorach
Though they had indulged her artistic pursuits, her parents' actually disapproved of her what they considered a young girls whim, which would eventually bring an end her time in California, causing her to destroy a large amount of her work. She tried exhibiting in Fresno and Los Angeles, but Fauvism was a bit much for the Golden State art crowd in 1912. Her work was received poorly. She moved to New York City and married William Zorach the day she arrived, Christmas Eve, 1912. The couple immediately began to collaborate artistically. Both entered artwork a few months later in the 1913 Armory Show. Together, they met with some success as both were invited to participate in the 1916 Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters. In 1915, William and Marguerite started their family with the birth of their son, Tessim, and their daughter, Dahlov Ipcar, who was born in 1917. She later became a working artist. The Zorach family spent their winters in New York, but divided their summers between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Youth, 1936-39, William Zorach
Head of Christ, 1940, William Zorach
Eventually, they settled in Greenwich Village where they called their house the "Post-Impressionist" studio. It became a meeting place of sorts, reminiscent of the small salons they'd known in Paris for artists to collaborate and share ideas. During the 1920s, William shifted from painting to sculpture and became the more popular of the two among critics and the public. Marguerite abandoned easel painting, and began working with embroidery and needlework. Although these works were very popular, they were not as well-received by art critics. During the 1930s she painted murals for the Works Progress Administration. She also did post office murals for the Section of Fine Arts in the early 1940s. She taught intermittently at Columbia Uni-versity and in 1945 returned to oil painting. In 1923 the Zorach family pur-chased a farm on Georgetown Island, Maine. William Zorach was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1953 and received a D.F.A. from Bates College in 1964. He taught at the Art Students League of New York, from 1929 until his retirement in 1960. He continued to actively work as an artist until his death in Bath, Maine, in 1966.

Epic of America, William Zorach
After the birth of their daughter, Marguerite gave up oil painting to give more attention to her children. The couple both experimented with textile art, Marguerite being the more prolific and better-known for her work. She created embroideries and batiks that stylistically resembled her Fauvist paintings. They were first shown in New York in 1918, receiving a positive critical response. Their use of textiles as an art medium broke down the barriers between crafts and fine art, while their collaboration similarly broke down gender barriers. Marguerite's works were popular and interesting to the public, though art critics often gave them poor reviews. Her first exhibition was at Charles David's gallery in New York. Despite a lack of critical acclaim, quite often the sales of Marguerite's textiles were all that kept the family from poverty. Marguerite also delighted in making clothes for her husband and children, though they weren't always the conventional style of the times.

Iipca Family in Robinhood Farm, 1943 tapestry, Marguerite Zorach
Commerce and Industry Mural,
Marguerite Zorach
In later years, Marguerite continued to be a prolific artist as she returned to painting, even working for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. While her artistic expression was mainly through textiles, her 1938 oil-on-canvas mural in the lobby at the Peterborough, New Hampshire post office, entitled New England Post in Winter, showed her modernist talent. In 1940, she completed the mural Autumn for the WPA in Ripley, Tennessee. Marguerite also taught at Columbia University. Later in life, Marguerite Zorach suffered from macular degeneration, which greatly inhibited her ability to produce textiles, becoming yet another reason she returned to painting. Although Marguerite was an im-pressive and prolific artist, she received little recognition for her work as compared to her husband. Nonetheless, she was a talented painter, influential in the process of bringing Modernism to the United States. Many art historians consider her the "First Woman Artist of California." Marguerite Thompson Zorach died in New York in 1968, two years after her husband. She was eighty-one.

New York Harbor, 1923, William Zorach

Deserted Ferry Slip, Woolrich, Maine,
William Zorach


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